Or not, as the case may be.
Today of course, is Saint George’s Day. Which means the more patriotic (jingoistic?) kind of Englishman will be sporting the flag of Saint George; whether worn as a t-shirt over a bulging lager belly, as a tasteful bit of face painting, or a painted cross worn over an equally dashing shaven head.
Anyway as to the provenance of, “Cry God, for Harry, England & old Saint George”. Harry in this instance is not William’s brother Harry, the rapscallion currently third in line to throne, but of course Henry V. The line comes from the play by the same name (Henry V) penned by one William Shakespeare. And as you may already know, today also happens to be the bard of Avon’s birthday.
So, plenty of reason to feel good about the flag of Albion? Perhaps not. For one thing, in the last decade or so, the flag of Saint George has been adopted by some pretty dubious groups within English society. Football hooligans, for one thing. The BNP, or British National Party, for another. For National, read here National Socialist, white supremacist party. The BNP of course would like England, and by extension Great Britain, to enjoy the kind of prestige that it did when a quarter of the globe was coloured pink, and the sun it said, never set on the British Empire. Ironic of course that nothing hastened the demise of that empire so rapidly as their defiant stand against Hitler and the Axis powers. This is one of many reasons the BNP’s particular brand of patriotism is so off-kilter, and just plain offensive.
Nor would followers of the BNP be much interested to know that Saint George is also the patron saint of Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal and Russia. His real life model, George of Laodicea, was born in Palestine; which few if any new immigrants to Britain would be, if the BNP had their way. They’ve just published their election manifesto on Saint George’s Day you see, and one of their key tenets is to deny any more muslims the right to immigrate to the UK.
But football hooligans and neo-Nazis are not the type to be bothered with such complexities. As far they’re concerned, Saint George is as English as, well, the nation’s favourite dish, Chicken Tikka Masala.
(I don’t think the BNP have managed to co-opt Shakespeare, perhaps put off by the number of Shakespearian scholars who have attempted to ‘out’ Stratford’s most famous son over the centuries. Well, he did most of the ‘outing’ himself, when one considers the sonnets were all dedicated to a man. And I mean, really dedicated: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day, thou art more lovely and more temperate”… and so on)
But back to sometimes harsh and occasionally comic reality. It looks like the BNP are stalling in the forthcoming British election. This is something that can’t have been helped by a recent revelation that the party’s publicity director had been planning to assassinate Nick Griffin! Just when they were beginning to convince gullible swing voters that they weren’t all complete and utter loonies. Here in my adopted homeland of Hungary however, the second round of general elections takes place on Sunday, and it is somewhat alarming to note that the extreme right wing party Jobbik already won 17% of the popular vote in the first round.