October 25, 2005

For Harry, England, and Saint George!

Lest I forget before going to bed: Today is St. Crispin's Day, upon which Henry V fought and won the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, thereby being recognized as the heir to the throne of France (although he did not live long enough to take it).

The battle is arguably best known because of Shakespeare's fictionalized portrayal of it in Henry V, in particular the rousing pep talk Harry gives his troops. While his fictional rendition is obviously not what Henry stirred up his troops with - the real speech, apparently, was little more than a reassurance to the noble-born officers that if captured they would be ransomed for a fair price, and a warning to the common soldiers to fight hard to avoid being killed - but it's one of the most memorable passages in the Bard's works:

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.

The real St. Crispin was a Roman who fled to present-day France with his brother (who was named Crispian; apparently Shakespeare confused the two) to escape persecution and preached Christianity to the Gauls. They were martyred in 286.