We few, we happy few..

In case you didn’t know, today is St Crispin’s Day. It’s also the anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, which took place on this day in 1415, and which features in Shakespeare’s Henry V. Here is the famous St Crispin’s Day Speech, delivered in stirring style by Laurence Olivier, in the classic 1944 film.

And here is the orginal text, slightly different from the film version,  Henry V in Act IV Scene iii 18-67. Scene: The English Camp:

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. 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.

10 Responses to “We few, we happy few..”

  1. Interesting! Thanks for sharing, I didn’t know that!

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    Great stuff! At the end you get an option on the Branagh version, which I prefer – as one critic put it, King Henry as rugby forward. Interesting that there is no incidental music for the Olivier version. I have recently been rewatching the classic 1981 Brideshead Revisited series (thankfully the DVDs are now Brideshead Remastered) and much prefer Olivier in the Lord Marchmain kind of role.

    A few years ago I went to some battlefields of the Hundred Years War – Crecy and Agincourt. The latter is now called Azincourt and is not to be confused with another village in northern France that is still called Agincourt (I wonder how many tourists go there by mistake). There is a good and bilingual exhibition building at Azincourt.

    I live 15 miles from the battlefield of Shrewsbury where the then Prince Hal won his spurs putting down a rebellion by the Percys of Northumberland. The Percys maintained – with some justice – that Prince Hal’s father, King Henry IV, had reneged on payment for patrolling the northern border of England and keeping the Scots out.

    For me the blot on King Henry V’s name is that he persecuted the Lollards, a pre-Reformation dissenting Christian movement who lived far closer to the New Testament than the so-called Christian culture of the time.

    • telescoper Says:

      I just watched the full DVD of the Olivier version, complete with William Walton’s superb score. Seeing it all afresh confirmed my first impression that it is unsurpassed. I think the Branagh version pales in comparison.

      • Dear Peter,

        I must have read hundreds of your posts. I finally found one where I disagree with you 🙂 At least when it comes to the St Crispin’s Day speech, I much prefer the Branagh version (the part, for instance, where he says, “We few, we happy few” – his voice is so well-modulated). Of course, I might be a bit biased – I love this rendition of the speech so much that I have seen it several times already.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Each to his own, but it deserves to be said that both are heavily reduced from Shakespeare’s script. There aren’t many films of Shakespeare plays that don’t cut. Branagh’s Hamlet is one, and what a stunner it is.

  3. telescoper Says:

    The story of the Battle of Agincourt is similar to many subsequent rugby matches: French ill-discipline at the point of contact, failure to roll away, the front row coming down at the onset of the scrum, superior teamwork by les rosbifs..

  4. I can’t hear the phrase “St Crispin’s Day” without hearing in my head the song by the same name by The Amazing Blondel. (For those not familiar with them, 2 of the 3 members used to be part of the modern beat combo Methuselah, which was basically hard rock. However, they had some acoustic parts to their show and these proved so popular that they spun off a new group on this basis. They are really unique: I know of no-one else who wrote original music in the style of the early late 16th and early 17th centuries (i.e. Shakespeare’s time). Their album Evensong is one of my favourite albums.

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Try Gryphon (whom I saw supporting Steeleye Span in the early ’70s) or Malicorne.

      • I have a couple of Gryphon albums. They are a bit more mediaeval than Amazing Blondel and one hears a bit of rock influence, while Amazing Blondel is a bit “purer”. But, yes, compared to Engelbert Humperdinck (either one) or Black Sabbath, say, in the same general territory.

        I’ve heard a couple of things by Malicorne; they are on my (very long) list of musicians to investigate.

  5. telescoper Says:

    So people can make their own mind up, here is the Kenneth Branagh version:

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