“We band of brothers”

December 7, 2009 at 12:00 am 3 comments

I just love these two crazy kids! Courtesy of Wonders in the Dark.

Those of you who know me know that I have in the past been a bit of a Shakespeare fanatic. I lived for Shakespeare in high school and deeply enjoyed him throughout my first year or so of college. Then something just stopped. Perhaps I got too busy with school or became increasingly enamoured with history as a discipline, as opposed to literature, but I stopped reading Shakespeare and, despite harboring a serious love of Much Ado About Nothing and continuing to patronize Shakespeare in the Park (in two cities!), I didn’t really seek any further plays out. That all changed when I fell in love with King Henry V. When I discovered the historic Henry V, I felt compelled to return immediately to my old stomping ground and give Shakespeare’s Harry a go.

It was my first History play and my first Shakespeare in near four years and that combination created an experience rife with the alternate pleasure of remembering and rediscovering an old friend and the disappointment of realizing that your old friend is not perhaps at his finest. It is generally acknowledged that Henry V is a bit of a difficult play, by turns brilliant and a bit slip-shod. To me, the sparks of brilliance and the wonderful use of a Chorus made reading it a very pleasurable experience. Not being quite the hagiographer I was in high school, I was able to accept that not every word written by Shakespeare was penned in literary gold and must be considered genius. And not being a literature scholar, I was also able to just enjoy it for the comment entertainment it was written as.

In the end, it was a completely lovely experience to go back and visit the Bard and I very much enjoyed reading his take on Henry V. While some have criticized it for being too patriotic or for glorifying war too much, I have to side with Shakespeare on this one. It is difficult to not glorify the man who led a scanty number of tired, sick Englishmen against a huge number of well-rested French and actually won the war. Straight history often won’t allow itself to engage in this kind of wonder at the sheer miracle of Agincourt, so I think portrayals of Agincourt should be the patriotic spectacle Shakespeare makes it.


Entry filed under: Classics. Tags: , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. KT  |  December 6, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    The St. Crispin’s Day speech is possibly one of the best things I have ever read, EVER. Here it is in full in case our readers aren’t familiar:

    This day is called the feast of Crispian:
    He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
    Will stand a tip-toe when this 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.

    • 2. Corey  |  December 7, 2009 at 6:22 am

      Seconded! That was definitely one of the “oh, Shakespeare, you *are* a literary god” moments in the play. :)

      • 3. KT  |  December 7, 2009 at 8:55 am

        We spent a whole class studying that speech for my Shakespeare course freshman year, and it was definitely worth it :D


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