My high school English teacher was an older, unmarried lady who had a, well let’s say, a risque reputation when she was younger. My parents knew her for years and when I was a high school sophomore, she was my teacher.
She loved Shakespeare. We were required to read a number of Shakespeare’s plays and his poetry. I barely passed. At age 15, Shakespeare didn’t interest me.
Fast forward four years. I’m now in college and once again I’m in an English lit class and we’re reading Shakespeare’s “historical” play, the Henrys, Richard the Third, and a few of his comedies. I’ve forgotten the instructor’s name. It’s been over fifty years. I do remember he read to us in class, in dialect of the times. Shakespeare became real. It became one of my favorite classes.
It was a four credit-hour class. We met four times a week and we spent a week on Henry the Fifth, one of Shakespeare’s most well known and most quoted plays. One of those famous quotes is in Act IV, Scene 3 when Henry is in France, at Agincourt…on St. Crispin’s Day eve.
SCENE III. The English camp.
Enter GLOUCESTER, BEDFORD, EXETER, ERPINGHAM, with all his host: SALISBURY and WESTMORELAND
God’s arm strike with us! ’tis a fearful odds.
God be wi’ you, princes all; I’ll to my charge:
If we no more meet till we meet in heaven,
Then, joyfully, my noble Lord of Bedford,
My dear Lord Gloucester, and my good Lord Exeter,
And my kind kinsman, warriors all, adieu!
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.
Now, let’s move forward nearly 700 years and revise Henry’s speech into modern terms. It is still potent and applicable today—with a bit of tongue-in-cheek.