On the eve of the battle of Agincourt, Henry V and his sickly, depleted forces face an impossible task. Taking on French army, complete with armoured cavalry. What’s more, the English army are outnumbered by the French five to one.
Prior to this, Henry V and his army had invaded France. After an initial, hard-fought victory at Harfleur, Henry’s forces became ravaged by sickness due to injury, long marches and foul weather. They began their retreat through the French country-side trying to make an escape to the coast at Calais and finally home to England. However, the French cut them off at Agincourt.
On the morning of the battle we find ourselves in the English army’s camp. Henry’s close companions Gloucester, Bedford, Exeter, Salisbury and Westmorland along with Erpingham farewell each other. To fight seems like a lost cause, Exeter even points out “besides, they (the French army) all are fresh”. The grim prospect of fighting a battle they are so clearly going to lose leads Westmorland to exclaim:
O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!
What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmorland? No, my far cousin,
If we are mark’d to die, we are enough
To do our country loss…
Breaking down the monologue into the beat changes and thoughts allows us to see how Henry is able to take one idea and let it build and grow into an entire rousing speech. He uses rhetorical questions and repetition in the opening to make his point but when he doesn’t receive a response, he must keep building on his own idea: the notion that this day and those brave enough to see it through, will be remembered for all eternity.
Beat Change = Space
Thought Change = /
What’s he that wishes so? /
My cousin, Westmorland? / No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enough
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 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 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. /
Here’s the text again, but translated into modern english to further help you understand the complexity of this character and this particular monologue.
Who wants that?
My cousin, Westmorland? No, my good cousin,
If we are chosen to die, then we are enough
For our country to feel the loss; but if we live,
The fewer men, the greater our share of honour.
By God’s will, I beg you, don’t wish one man more
By God, I do not desire gold,
Nor do I mind anyone who eats at my expense,
It doesn’t grieve me if people wear my clothes,
These kids of material things don’t dwell on my mind.
But if it is a sin to desire honour,
I am the most sinful person alive,
No, have faith, my cousin, don’t wish a single man from England.
For God’s sake, I would not lose so large an honour
As one man more, I think, would take away from me,
For the greatest desire I have. Oh, don’t wish one more.
Instead declare it, Westmorland, through my army,
That anyone who doesn’t have the courage for this fight,
Let him leave, his papers of leave will be written,
And money for transport home put into his wallet:
I would not die the company of a man
Who is afraid to die as my companion.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that lives through this day and comes home safe,
Will stand a tip-toe above the rest when some one names this day,
And he’ll be proud by the name of Crispian.
He that sees out this day and lives to old age,
Will annually, on the evening before, hold a feast for his friends,
And say “Tomorrow is Saint Crispian’.
Then will he roll up his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, ‘These wounds I received on Crispin’s day’.
Old men forget, yet everything will be forgotten,
But he will remember, with additions
The extraordinary deeds he did that day. Then shall our names –
Become as familiar as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester –
Every time they drink, always remembered.
This story, the good man will teach his son,
And Crispin Crispian will never go past,
From this day until the ending of the world,
Without us being remembered;
We few, we fortunate few, we band of brothers.
For anyone today who sheds their blood with me,
Will be my brother, he’ll never be low-born,
This day will give him noble rank.
And gentlemen in England now in their beds,
Will think themselves cursed that they weren’t here,
Ashamed at their lack of masculinity while any one speaks
Who fought with us on Saint Crispin’s day.
Unfamiliar Words / Phrases
Fair: Honest, Good.
Jove: Most powerful of Roman gods.
Proclaim: Announce, declare.
Stomach: Appetite, courage.
Passport: document allowing one to pass through France to board a ship.
Convoy: Transportation for the journey.
Crispian: Also known as Crispin Crispianus, Saint Crispin’s Day – 25th October marks the day that two brothers Crispin and Crispianus were martyred.
Vigil: The evening before the day of the feast.
Vile: Low ranking. Potential pun on ‘ugly’.
Gentle his condition : Ennoble him. Potential pun on ‘make look more handsome’.
Accursed: Under a curse.
Manhood: Manliness. Also could mean ‘their lives’.
A story complete with overcoming seemingly impossible odds, this is perhaps Shakespeare’s most patriotic play. Henry’s use of rhetoric is legendary. It is the hallmark of many great leaders.
When looking over the monologue, mark how many times Henry repeats himself. Also take note of the way in which he includes everyone that he is speaking with. From the lowliest pikeman to his noble cousin, he is able to effectively convince them to follow him, to what they perhaps believe is certain death.
Something that is worth noting when performing this speech is that Henry takes St Crispin’s Day and gives it meaning for his purpose. St Crispin’s Day is like any other day on the calendar, every saint has their own day. What Shakespeare did, and in turn, what Henry did was infuse that day with passionate rhetoric to inspire. Henry is coming up with his ideas on the spot to galvanise and drive his men to fight against impossible odds.
So whether you consider him to be a tyrant who invades a foreign country for his wounded pride and political gain or you believe him to be a great leader and war hero, it cannot be denied that Henry V is a charismatic leader, able to rouse his ‘band of brothers’ to a final battle, using merely his words.