St Crispin's Day Speech

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The St. Crispin's Day speech is a famous speech from William Shakespeare's play Henry V in Act IV Scene iii 18–67.

On the morning of 25 October 1415, shortly before the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V made a brief speech to the English army under his command, emphasizing the justness of his claim to the French throne and hearkening back to the memory of previous defeats the English kings had inflicted on the French. According to Burgundian sources, he concluded the speech by telling the English longbowmen that the French had boasted that they would cut off two fingers from the right hand of every archer, so they could never draw a string again.[1]

In Shakespeare's account, King Henry begins his speech in response to Westmoreland's expressions of dismay at the English army's lack of troop strength. Henry roused his men by expressing his confidence that they would triumph, and that the 'band of brothers' fighting that day would be able to boast each year on St. Crispin's Day of their victory over the French.

Text[edit]

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin, Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Influence on Popular Culture[edit]

The phrase "band of brothers" taken from near the end of the speech has taken on a life of its own. Admiral Horatio Nelson was famous for using the phrase in correspondence with the British Admiralty to refer to the captains under his command, such as after the Battle of the Nile and before the Battle of Trafalgar. His usage helped popularize the line to refer to a close-knit group of fighting men.

In 1789, the song Hail, Columbia was written for the inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States; the chorus reads "Firm, united let us be, / Rallying round our liberty, / As a band of brothers joined, / Peace and safety we shall find." The phrase also appears in the first line of the 1861 Confederate marching song The Bonnie Blue Flag.

More recently, the line was used as a title for a 1992 book on World War II by Stephen Ambrose that was adapted into an 11-hour HBO miniseries in 2001 .

During World War II, Laurence Olivier delivered the St. Crispin's Day speech during a radio program to boost British morale; his reading was so successful that Winston Churchill asked him to produce the Shakespeare play as a movie,[2] and Olivier's adaptation appeared in 1944. Kenneth Branagh offered his own reading of the speech and the play in his 1989 adaptation as well.

Apart from being read during film and theater performances of "Henry V", the St. Crispin's Day speech was also read verbatim in the film Renaissance Man by Private Donnie Benitez in full combat gear and in the driving rain, on being mockingly challenged by his drill instructor Sgt. Cass to recite Shakespeare. It was partially recited during the theater scene in the film "Tombstone" (1993) and during a deleted scene in the film "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006).

The speech is considered one of Shakespeare's greatest and most heroic speeches, and has been imitated in such other films as Braveheart, Independence Day, and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

Notes and references[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Barker 2005, pp. 283–4.
  2. ^ "The St. Crispin's Day Speech". Folger Shakespeare Library. Retrieved 3 December 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Barker, Juliet (2005). Agincourt: The King, the Campaign, the Battle (U.S. Title: Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England.). London: Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-72648-1.