Thursday, May 1, 2014

Speech: "This day is called the feast of Crispian" - William Shakespeare

(from Henry V, spoken by King Henry)

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
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:'
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 remember'd.
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 remember'd;
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 accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Unquestionably one of the most impassioned and inspiring military speeches of all time, the famous Saint Crispin's Day speech from Henry V is simple, concise, and incredibly stirring.  Faced with impossible odds before the Battle of Agincourt, Henry the king addresses his men.  They are tired, outnumbered five to one, and facing strong, fresh French soldiers.  And yet, for all this, Henry (at least in Shakespeare's account) lowers himself to the level of the common solider, addressing them as brothers, and exalting them over any other Englishmen not at that fight.  I particularly love the image of all men who did not participate in that battle holding their "manhoods cheap" while in the presence of any who fought in that impossible fight.  The language of the poem is simple and clear, appropriate for an address to soldiers.  It promises immortality and glory, and does not hope for victory, but assures the forces that they have already won.  When saying that they will be remembered "from this day to the ending of the world" he is right.

The line, "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers" has become one of the most famous in the English canon, and for good reason.  It is beautiful to speak, listen to, and to feel.  That a king may through battle become as a brother to another is humbling and reminds us of our fundamental equality before Death, God, and Nature.

I did not read this for you myself today because I can only hope to embarrass myself in the face of better readings from real actors.  So I present to Kenneth Branagh, and his supremely rousing rendition of this famous speech.  Enjoy.

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