Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

And rouse him at the name of Crispian

Jay Anderson, who is better about keeping his English history front of mind than I am, points out that today is St. Crispin's day. Commemorated on Oct. 25th, the feast celebrated the martyrdom of twin brothers, Crispin and Crispinian, in the third century. However, the feast was removed from the Roman Calendar after Vatican II on the basis that it was questionable whether the saints had actually existed, rather than being Celtic mythological characters adopted into Christian usage.

Be that as it may, it's not a bad time to recall the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V:
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the 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.

7 comments:

John Farrell said...

One of my favorites, earlier in the Act: (minus proper breaks)

"And all those arms and legs chopped off in battle will gather at the latter day and cry all, 'we died in such a place....' Some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left...I'm afeard that few die well that die in battle, for how they can charitably dispose of anything, when blood is their argument."

Darwin said...

For my money, Henry V is one of _the_ best Shakespeare plays. (I used to have the Crispin's day speech memorized.)

One of the interesting things about it, and perhaps what makes it so appealing to the modern ear/eye is that it's dealing with a war that is elective rather than fought for survival, and whole political justification is obscure to many of the characters. When Kenneth Branagh did his adaptation he said that it was intended to be "the post-Vietnam Henry V", and I think that proved a very interesting way to do it.

John Farrell said...

Crispian is a great speech to keep in your memory. I used both movies Olivier's and Branagh's) as aids to memorize.

Still waiting for the opportunity to break out in a bar someday (it will have to be an Irish bar)....

Donald R. McClarey said...

I can never read or hear the speech performed without having tears come to my eyes. I never saw combat, thank God, during my service in the Army, but over the years I've talked to many vets who did, and Shakespeare captures well the special quality that attaches to so many who went through that terrible crucible.

Kevin Jones said...

"over the years I've talked to many vets who did, and Shakespeare captures well the special quality that attaches to so many who went through that terrible crucible."

The Bard never saw military service himself, did he? No family members, either? His imaginative sympathies seem superhuman.

Donald R. McClarey said...

"The Bard never saw military service himself, did he?"

Probably not Kevin, but most things about Shakespeare are uncertain. His comments about the militia in Henry VI may be an indication that he served in the militia but who knows. Agreed that Shakespeare's imagination knew few bounds.

Darwin said...

He certainly had a gift for finding the most deeply stirring approach to a variety of situations -- whether he'd experienced them himself or not.

You've heard, I'm sure, the stories of some of the officers in WW2, reading or playing recordings of the Once More Into the Breach and Crispin's Day speeches in the landing boats on the way in on D-Day. The last poetry some people ever heard, no doubt.