Commonplace Book: Patriotism and War Crimes in Shakespeare’s Henry V

Compelling passages, notable quotables, bon mots, disjecta, ephemera, and miscellany.

KING HARRY: Therefore, you men of Harfleur,
Take pity of your town and of your people
Whiles yet my soldiers are in my command,
Whiles yet the cool and temperate wind of grace
O’erblows the filthy and contagious clouds
Of heady murder, spoil, and villainy.
If not – why, in a moment, look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dashed to the walls;
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod’s bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
What say you? Will you yield, and this avoid?
Or, guilty in defence, be thus destroyed?

Act 3, Scene 3, 110 – 126

 

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KING HARRY
This day is called the Feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day and comes safe home
Will stand a-tiptoe when this name is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall see this day and live t’old age
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours
And say, ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.’
And 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 fleshly remembered.
This story shall the good man teach his son,
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by
From this to the ending of the world
But we in it shall be rememberèd,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today 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 abed
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.

Act 4, Scene 3, 40 – 67

 

The Life of Henry the Fifth (1598) in William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (Oxford, 1991), General Editors Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor.

WS

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