The Feast of St Crispin’s Day speech is spoken by England’s King Henry V in Shakespeare’s Henry V history play (act 4 scene 3). The scene is set on the eve of the battle of Agincourt at the English camp in northern France, which took place on 25 October 1415 (Saint Crispin’s Day). Through the course of the speech, Henry V motivates his men – his ‘band of brothers’, outnumbered greatly by the French – by recalling previous English military defeats of the French.
St Crispin’s Day speech, original text
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 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.
St Crispin’s Day Speech Translation
Who’s wishing that? My cousin Westmorland? No, my dear cousin, if we are marked down to die we are enough for our country to lose, and if marked down to live, the fewer the men the greater the share of honour. For the love of God, don’t wish for one man more. By Jove, I’m not interested in gold, nor do I care who eats at my expense. It doesn’t bother me who wears my clothes. Such outward things don’t come into my ambitions. But if it is a sin to long for honour I am the most offending soul alive. No, indeed, my cousin, don’t wish for another man from England. God’s peace, I wouldn’t lose as much honour as the share one man would take from me. No, don’t wish for one more. Rather proclaim to my army, Westmorland, that anyone who doesn’t have the stomach for this fight should leave now. He will be guaranteed free passage and travel money will be put in his purse. We would not like to die with any man who lacks the comradeship to die with us. This day is called the Feast of Crispian. He who outlives this day and gets home safely to reach old age will yearly on its anniversary celebrate with his neighbours and say, “Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.” Then he will roll up his sleeve and show his scars and say “I got these wounds on Crispin’s day.” Old men are forgetful, but even if he remembers nothing else he’ll remember, with embroideries, what feats he did that day. Then our names, as familiar in his mouth as household words – Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter, Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester – will be remembered in their toasts. This good man will teach his son, and Crispin Crispian will never pass from today until the end of the world without us being remembered: we few; we happy few; we band of brothers! The man who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; however humble he may be, this day will elevate his status. And gentlemen in England, still lying in their beds, will think themselves accursed because they were not here, and be in awe while anyone speaks who fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.’
Watch St Crispin’s Day Speech Performed
How Shakespeare Rescued St Crispin’s Day From Obscurity
25th October is St Crispin’s Day. Henry V is structured around that day because this was the day on which Henry defeated the French at Agincourt. It’s also the day on which two other celebrated battles were fought: the Battle of Balaklava in the Crimean War, immortalised by Tennyson in his poem, The Charge of the Light Brigade, 1854, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific, 1944.
St Crispin’s Day is burned into our culture because of Henry’s speech. St Crispin’s Day is actually the feast day of both St Crispin and St Crispinian, Roman twins, the patron saints of cobblers – for that’s what they were, teaching the gospels to the Gauls by day and making and mending shoes by night. In modern times they are also the patron saints of cyclists, of all things!
The brothers fell foul of the authorities because of their Christian preaching and were tortured and beheaded in 256. Strangely, although the majority of recognised saints are legendary rather than historical figures, St Crispin’s Day was removed from the Catholic list of feast days because the Vatican decided that there was little evidence of their existence.
But because of one of the most famous passages in Shakespeare’s works we remember St Crispian and St Crispinian (Crispian in Shakespeare).