April 23 marks the 450th birthday of William Shakespeare. On his birthday, I call for a posthumous knighthood for the flower of the English language. I deliver five points for this below.
1. Why he deserves it:
The English language will be the most enduring monument to English history. Most attribute the permanence of the language to empire, as well as by the continuance of its use as the primary language of the United States and of the internet, making it the global lingua franca.
Shakespeare has had, and will continue to have, a central role in this linguistic conquest. First, he developed the language, inventing many words and phrases still with us today. Secondly, he has offered us the greatest written examples of the use of this language, through the all-too-human thoughts of characters such as Hamlet, King Lear, Falstaff and Macbeth. Thirdly, his plays and poems have been part of every child's education in the English-speaking world. As well, his works have been translated into every language, including fictional languages. He is both the high-point and often the introduction to English culture, history and civilization. He is England's greatest playwright, poet, neologist, psychologist, educator, inventor and ambassador. The famed literary critic Harold Bloom goes so far as to name a book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.
Bloom's book is one of thousands that have been written about Shakespeare's life or work. As I write this, I feel confident that at least one hundred more books on Shakespeare are developing. His hold on us is so eternal and complete that even hordes of pseudo-scholars attempt to discredit his very existence with books and movies.
In time, all in England's history may be forgotten, Shakespeare cannot be forgotten. He is England's greatest citizen, past or present.
2. Why he would want it:
Shakespeare went out of his way to apply for a coat of arms. Once granted, he was styled "a gentleman" and was allowed to carry a sword in public. Seeking further status, Shakespeare bought two prominent properties: the gatehouse to the former Blackfriars priory and the second largest house in Stratford (the largest was probably taken). The gatehouse was the gateway between the City of London and Westminster, where the nobles lived. This was then converted into an expensive indoor theatre for wealthy patrons. Shakespeare, who held stock in his playing company, was able to elevate his company from the Lord Chamberlain's Men to the King's Men. If a knighthood were possible for actors/writers in his day, he would not have turned it down, it would have been sought.
3. Who he has knighted:
Peggy Ashcroft, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Nigel Hawthorne, Ian Holm, Henry Irving (first actor knighted), Derek Jacobi, Ben Kingsley, Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Laurence Olivier, Michael Redgrave and Patrick Stewart are some of them. This list does not include Shakespeare scholars, such as Frank Kermode, who have been knighted. Shakespeare will soon have enough knights to reenact the battle of Agincourt.
4. Who has been posthumously knighted before:
Murray William James Bourchier, Robert Chambers, John Dunningham, Horace Hood, Robert Falcon Scott are some of the posthumous knights. Undoubtedly, they are household names and their deeds are told in songs and lore.
5. Why it matters:
An English knighthood is bestowed on an individual for exemplary service to England. By knighting Shakespeare, England can reward the service of the individual who has done the most for England. Some may argue, "Why does it matter? He's dead," however, Shakespeare is very much alive. Shakespeare lives on in the words of every English speaker whether they like him or not. We've celebrated Shakespeare by keeping him living, but he has made this so, and made us more alive in return. Shakespeare, as Ben Jonson, his competitive rival, wrote, "was not of an age, but for all time!" What could be a more appropriate than knighting ever-living Shakespeare on his 450th birthday in the second Elizabethan era?
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