This is one of the greatest pre-battle pep talks ever given, better even then Patton. Just reading it gives me the chills, and makes me want to charge screaming into a swarming mass of armed frenchman.

See Henry V IV.iii

King Henry:
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 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:'
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 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

King Henry's inspirational "St. Crispin's Day" speech is perhaps the most famous passage in the play. In this speech, which is meant to bolster the morale of his soldiers before they head into a battle that they are almost certain to lose, Henry demonstrates the brilliance with words that he has shown throughout the play. His challenge is to turn his troops small numbers into an advantage, which he does. A speech like this could not be pulled off without enormous personal charisma, which King Henry clearly possesses to an almost frightening degree.

Henry is trying to convince his men that they have all come there to fight for right: for honor, for justice, and for glory. In order to accomplish this, he makes fighting with him at Agincourt sound like a privilege, one which will allow its participants to capture more glory than anything else could. Henry also brings up, once more, the recurring theme of the bond between king and commoner. When he says "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers," he is leading into the suggestion that each man "that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile / This day shall gentle his condition" (60-63). That is, even a commoner will be made noble by fighting at the king's side today. And the result will be life-long honor that will elevate the fighters above their peers: the saint's day of "Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by / From this day to the ending of the world / But we in it shall be remembered... / And gentlemen in England now abed / Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, / And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks / That fought with us upon St. Crispin's day" (57-67).

This is resonant and powerful language, and the speech has become famous for good reason. As always, however, we must consider both what Henry says, and what he actually means. Will the common soldiers really become the King's brothers? Though he may collect some material reward (if he survives), a commoner won't literally become a gentleman by fighting today. And if we remember the way in which King Henry cast off his commoner (like Falstaff and Bardolph) when he rose to the throne, his claims of brotherhood and solidarity begin to seem questionable. As always, King Henry's rhetoric is actually surrounded by complexities and moral ambiguities.

This was written by one of my friends, JC. It is reproduced with his permission.

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