Henry V

Sabine d'Ricoldi da Forli


It is thought that Henry V was written in the spring of 1599. It appeared in print in (possibly) August of 1600, when it is said to have been performed. The version commonly found today was put together from the memories of its performers. A much longer play is found written in a 1623 folio from Shakespeare's own pages. The edition I am using is from the 1600 version to represent the play as it was performed in the 1600's. The play itself was intended as part of a trilogy with Henry IV before and Henry VI after. They are meant to be read as such because of the interlinking characters and plot lines. (1)

The Story

The play tells the story of the young king of England, the title role, uniting his country against France, ending at the battle of Agincourt with an English victory. One change in the story is the substitution of the Duke of Bourbon for the Dauphin. The English were of very few men, facing an army of many tens of thousands. But to the English credit they had some of the finest bowmen of the world and by choosing the site of battle to his advantage, Henry forced the French army into an untenable position. The French were decimated by the masses of arrows fired upon by the English bowmen; the foot soldiers and knights were barely required for action. (2)

The Saint Crispin's Day Speech

This passage I will read is the speech Henry gives to his troops to rouse them to battle. The poetry of the piece shows how Shakespeare saw Henry as one of his most famous warrior kings. At times introspective, at others humorous Henry has great depth for his youth. At all times do we know that Henry died young and the protector of the throne lost France, rendering Agincourt pointless in its bloodshed . (3)

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, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; hid passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put in his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This da y 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 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 their mouths as household words, - Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick, and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloster, -
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 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 while any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.


(1) Wells S, Taylor G ed 1988 William Shakespeare: The Complete Works
Oxford University Press: New York
(2) Wells S, Taylor G ed 1988 William Shakespeare: The Complete Works
Oxford University Press: New York
(3) Wells S, Taylor G ed 1988 William Shakespeare: The Complete Works
Oxford University Press: New York