St Crispin's Day Speech

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

Historical context[edit]

On the morning of 25 October 1415 (feast of Saints Crispin and Crispinian), shortly before the Battle of Agincourt, Henry V made a brief speech to the English army under his command, emphasising the justness of his claim to the French throne and harking 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 Westmorland's expressions of dismay at the English army's lack of troop strength. Henry rouses 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 glorious battle against the French. Shakespeare's inclusion of Westmoreland, however, is fictional as he was not present during Henry's 1415 French campaign.

Text[edit]

WESTMORLAND. 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, Westmorland? 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, Westmorland, 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 see this day, and live 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 Crispin'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 rememberèd-
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.

Cultural influence[edit]

Historical re-use and re-quotation[edit]

  • The phrase also appears in the 1789 song "Hail, Columbia", written for the inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States; and in the first line of the 1861 Confederate marching song "The Bonnie Blue Flag".[2]
  • During the Napoleonic Wars, just prior to the Battle of the Nile, Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, then Rear Admiral of the Blue, referred to his captains as his "band of brothers".[2]
  • During World War II, Laurence Olivier delivered the speech during a radio programme to boost British morale and Winston Churchill found him so inspiring that he asked him to produce the Shakespeare play as a film. Olivier's adaptation appeared in 1944.[2]
  • During the legal battle for the U.S. presidential election of 2000, regarding the Florida vote recount, members of the Florida legal team for George W. Bush, the eventual legal victor, joined arms and recited the speech during a break in preparation, to motivate themselves.[3]
  • At 4.30 AM on the day of the result of the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum, 2016, as the vote to leave became clear, activist and MEP Daniel Hannan is reported to have delivered an edited version of the speech from a table, replacing the names Bedford, Exeter, Warwick and Talbot with other prominent Vote Leave activists.[4][5]
  • University of Notre Dame Varsity Soccer Coach Bobby Clark has adopted the term Band of Brothers from the speech to refer to the Notre Dame soccer alumni, and has celebrated them as such. This was memorialized in a speech by a famous soccer alumnus from the class of 1979 who delivered a rousing modification of the St. Crispin's Day speech at the 40th anniversary celebration of the Notre Dame Varsity soccer program, delivered at the Notre Dame Monogram Club on April 29, 2017.
  • A part of the speech is quoted in the novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy as one of the character's mother's favorite passage from Shakespeare which is recited (silently) at her (mother's) second funeral.

Film, Television, Music and Literature[edit]

  • In the 1994 film Renaissance Man, part of the speech is recited by a remedial learning soldier (Lillo Brancato, Jr.) during a night exercise, in order to prove to his drill sergeant (Gregory Hines) that the literacy classes taught by civilian Bill Rago (Danny DeVito) are worthwhile.
  • The speech is given in the movie Tombstone by Mr. Fabian, played by Billy Zane. He was part of a touring acting group that put on a set of short plays.
  • In a deleted scene from X-Men: The Last Stand, Beast (Kelsey Grammer) recites a portion of the speech as the X-Men are preparing to confront Magneto's forces.
  • In the Shane Meadows film This Is England, the speech is misquoted by a speaker from the National Front convincing Combo's gang to join the group.
  • Stephen Ambrose borrowed the phrase "Band of Brothers" for the title of his 1992 book on "E" Company of the 101st Airborne during World War II; it was later adapted into the 2001 miniseries Band of Brothers. In the closing scene of the series, Carwood Lipton quotes from Shakespeare's speech.[2]
  • In the 2017 film Their Finest, set in 1940-1941, the end of Henry V's speech is quoted by the British Secretary of War.
  • The The Cat Empire song All Night Loud includes the lyrics "There’s a speech that I know well, was told by Henry V I’ll tell a version that relates to us not war: ‘He who sheds his sweat with me will be my friend eternally, from this day to the ending of the world!’"

Parodies[edit]

  • The speech was parodied in St Trinian's 2: The Legend of Fritton's Gold when Miss Fritton gives a speech before the school is invaded.
  • It is also parodied in the fifth season episode "The Gift" of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, before the final battle. Spike says, "Well, not exactly the Saint Crispin's Day speech, was it?" To which Giles replies, "We few, we happy few--" and Spike finishes, "we band of buggered."
  • The closing paragraph of the speech was parodied in The Black Adder's pilot episode. The entire first season of the show is presented as a correction of a maliciously retconned history of the Wars of the Roses by Henry Tudor. In it, St. Crispin's Day is replaced by "Ralph the Liar's Day," among other departures from literary and historical tradition. King Richard III before the Battle of Bosworth Field gives the lines "And gentlemen in London still a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here. And hold their manhood cheap, while others speak of those who fought with us on Ralph the Liar's Day!"[6]
  • In All Time Low's song Take Cover, from the album Straight to DVD II: Past, Present and Future Hearts, the lyrics "We lonely few/ We band of others" is a rewritten version of the speech.[7]
  • In season 2 episode 13 of Due South, Buck Frobisher gives an abridged version of this speech to a group of confused Mounties before they go to fight the terrorists, ending with: "And those who are not here, be they sleeping or doing something else, they will feel themselves sort of crappy, because they are not here to join the fight on this day the 11th of March!"
  • The Fourth Doctor gave part of this speech in the episode "State of Decay" when he was trying to convince the village rebels to help him slay the Great Vampire. Here it is.

"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 E-Space."

Notes and references[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]