The Siege of Harfleur

Today is the six hundredth anniversary of the start of the Siege of Harfleur, and to mark the occasion I am quoting the King’s speech from HENRY V, Act 3, Scene 2:

Once more unto 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-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

It is ā€“ in my opinion ā€“ one of the most stirring pieces of text that I have ever had to read … or to learn.

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6 Comments on “The Siege of Harfleur”

  1. A.W. KITCHEN says:

    The original Henry the Fifth is one of my favourite films , superior to Branagh's later one in my opinion , Tony

  2. A.W. Kitchen (Tony),

    I agree with you; Olivier's film had something about it that set it apart.

    All the best,

    Bob

  3. guy says:

    I didn't realise it until I read it the other day that George Cole who recently died was the last surviving cast member alive of the Olivier film. A bit of movie trivia!

    regards,
    Guy

  4. Guy,

    I must admit that I had not realised that George Cole had been a member of the cast of Olivier's HENRY V!

    Thanks for sharing that little nugget of film trivia with us.

    All the best,

    Bob

  5. Translation: 'Let's get tore in, boys!'

    I rather like Shakespeare's historical plays – more than the tragedies, really – though some are better than others. I still recall the 1980's TV versions of the Wars of the Roses plays, with Mark Wing-Davy as the Earl of Warwick, and Ron Cook as Richard III. Great stuff!

  6. Archduke Piccolo,

    I agree that the Shakespeare historical plays are excellent, although some are better than others. They are wonderful propaganda, especially when seen in the context of the time at which they were written, and often have funnier bits in them than the so-called 'comedies'. (In some ways Shakespeare was writing to a Bollywood-like formula: he had to have a comic interlude in each of the 'histories' just as the Indian cinema demands at least one song and dance number in every film.)

    Of the 'tragedies', the one I love is the so-called 'Scottish play' … which is more of a history than any of the others, and is the only one I ever had a speaking role in. (I was 'First Murderer'!)

    All the best,

    Bob


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