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The Independent Online
TODAY is the feast day of Saint George, protector of England and the knight who saved a young maiden from a dragon. A heathen town in Anatolia was keeping this foul-breathed dragon at bay by offering it two sheep every day. When the sheep had all been sacrificed they substituted a young girl, daughter of the king. George rescued the girl, subdued the dragon, and led it to the nearby city using the damsel's girdle as a lead. The citizens were terrified. Unchivalrously, George refused to kill the dragon unless they converted to Christianity, which they did. George was adopted as protector of the Kingdom of England soon after Crusaders claimed to have seen him helping the French in battle in the 11th century. His standard, red cross on white background, is the flag of England. He is also patron of horses and boy scouts.

23 April, 1616: William Shakespeare, widely regarded as the greatest playwright of all time, died on his 52nd birthday. Born in Stratford-upon- Avon, the son of a glover, he wrote at least 36 plays, 154 sonnets and four long poems. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582 and had three children, including twins. Little else is known and his modest background has led many to argue that he could not be the author of works now attributed to him. The thesis that many were written by Sir Francis Bacon was advanced in 1805 by the Rev James Wilmot, who based his argument on the erudition of the plays contrasted with Shakespeare's presumed lack of scholarship. The notion that his works contain clues and cryptograms has fuelled further theories of authorship (as has the dedication to the mysterious "Mr W H"). A further theory comes from Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, who argues that the author was Arab - a Sheikh Speare. Sheikh or Shakespeare, his continuing influence on the English language is undeniable. His plays are littered with vivid phrases in daily use: Seen better days (As You Like It); in the mind's eye (Hamlet); tower of strength (Richard III); eating one out of house and home (Henry IV); in my heart of hearts (Hamlet); it is a sorry sight (Macbeth); for goodness sake (Henry VIII); wild goose chase (Romeo and Juliet); at one fell swoop (Macbeth); to the manner born (Hamlet); blinking idiots (Merchant of Venice); what the Dickens [devil] (Merry Wives of Windsor)the milk of human kindness (Macbeth); striving mightily (Taming of the Shrew).

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