Tuesday, October 25, 2011

St. Crispin's Day

I make no secret of my love of Shakespeare. I have a short list of my favorites, categorized by genre--Twelfth Night is my favorite comedy, for example, and Hamlet my favorite tragedy. My favorite historical piece is, without a doubt, Henry V. I ready it for the first time in high school, when my entire Rhetoric class was required to memorize and present the famous St. Crispin's Day speech that Henry delivers to his men before the Battle of Agincourt. He prefaces his speech by releasing any man who doesn't wish to fight, and then goes on to paint a picture of the future, where the men who stand beside him that day will look back and remember their bravery and brotherhood.

Years later, the rallying words still never fail to make my skin prickle and often there's a suspicious tightness in my throat. The cadence of the speech itself is so familiar as to have worn grooves in my mind, and I find myself mouthing the words as I read, or breathing them softly to myself whenever I hear them spoken. And since my own limited eloquence can never hope to convey all that these words make me feel, I'll bow to the Bard and let them speak for themselves:

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 Crispian'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 remembered-
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.

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