Monday, January 21, 2008

St. Crispen's Day Speech

My friend and classmate in Albany, NY emailed our high school egroup asking for assistance. Seems that it is a big tradition in his son’s school to hold declamation contests. Last year, his son Xavier recited the soliloquy from Julius Caesar beginning with “O Pardon me Thou Bleeding Piece of Earth”.

I suggested Henry V’s stirring speech in the Battle of Agincourt to rouse his outnumbered, dysentery-racked troops fighting in France facing annihilation (even if after 600 years it was established that Shakespeare made full use of his poetic license to exaggerate the odds a bit).

This speech is a favorite of mine because it is so romantic in proposing the idea that even a grand design, like retaking an entire country need not require the cooperation of the majority. All it takes is a tight committed group of people fighting for the honor of defending their nation.

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 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 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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