a little something extra

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

St. Crispin's Day

October 25 is the feast of Saints Crispin and Crispinian, folks. And the battleground pep talk that King Henry V gave to his troops at Agincourt actually did take place on Oct. 25, 1415. That inspired Shakespeare almost two centuries later, and the result was this...

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.

-- Henry V, Act 4, scene 3

Let it be publicly stated, and bring on the black helicopters if you must: I am fundamentally opposed to the wars the United States is waging. They bear thinking about today, in the light of this speech.

But Shakespeare doesn't give us 48 lines of nonstop, unadulterated warmongering. Sprinkled throughout the speech, there are nuggets of things I do believe in. King Henry cuts across all class borders when he notes that any man that fights that day is his brother, "be he ne'er so vile" (meaning lowborn, poor, landless, etc.) Conscientious objectors are respected, with the clear opportunity to decline to fight, safe passage to leave, and funding for their journeys home. And old men are held up as heroes, not dismissed as worthless once they're past their physical prime.

Stuff to think about. I have to go work.


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