In celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday on 23-April, the incomparable Mark Steyn republishes his 2003 review of two British productions of Henry V.
It’s long – since it’s Steyn that’s a bonus.
In Henry V, the Bard gave us the phrases “Once more into the breach” and “Band of brothers”.
During the siege of Harfleur in 1415, Shakespeare has Henry urging his soldiers forward:
…Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favor’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect.
Before Agincourt, hugely outnumbered and seeming to face annihilation, Shakespeare’s Henry says:
…This [day’s] 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.
The entire speech is here. It ranks among the best inspirational speeches ever written.
In 1989 Kenneth Branagh produced and starred in what is probably the best film version. Rent it.