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).
Thank you so much now I understand
L. Leugner, as a Canadian army veteran, I appreciate what the King was telling his troops.
That they must remember their brothers regardless of the battles result.
I just read in a novel called armada by Ernest Cline A quote that ends that fears his fellow ship to die with us. I was just checking to see what play it comes from, the modern English Version following the original quote is amazingly clear. This site will definitely be a “go to” for me.
Introducing disadvantaged youth to the timeless works of Shakespeare can be difficult because of the language the Bard uses. I like to start with the story and then explore the work more deeply. I’ve translated S. before, but it’s nice to know that the work has already been done. And quite expertly, I might add. Thanks for sharing!
This is a classic example of Leadership in the military. Three decades or so ago, I was on the receiving end of this speech. The Carrier Airwing Commander (CAG) whose nickname was “Zap” gathered the Officers who flew off the aircraft carrier’s flight deck together and gave us his inspiring words of why we were there and what we would be facing. He did not quote Shakespeare, but in his own words conveyed the spirit of this speech, telling us we were “the tip of the sword.” The Naval Aviators gathered there understood what Zap was saying, and those who knew Shakespeare realized that they had just experienced the same selfless Leadership that Henry V embodied in his Saint Crispin’s day speech.
bound in honor and in blood, you were. like my friends who survived TET …..
this speech made their bond so clear!!!’n
Now there’s another all-out “offensive” mounted, against the whole world. If you were in the original then you’re no doubt past call-up age for this one. (Started after your post of course.) Did you volunteer anyway?
If so, you have my thanks. Hang in there.
I was recently in Raymond Murphy VA hospital for eye surgery, and the cleanliness requirements alone were disruptive.
So… decent translation, except for the penultimate line is a little, um, whitewashed.
Hold = consider
Manhood = penis
Cheap = of little worth
He’s saying that whenever they talk about having fought at the Battle of Agincourt, other guys will assume that they’ve got big dicks.
Manhood can mean “penis” but it doesn’t only mean literally “penis”. In the context, in my view, to translate as “penis” is to force the more vulgar underlying meaning, in a passage that is already very clear in the original. The word, both ancient and modern, is manhood.
Aw, man + takes all the fun away!
Seriously, I agree. Most of not all of WS’s bawdy double entendres we’re in comic exchange. Prominent are the drunken porter at the gate in Macbeth and Juliet’s nurse, while dressing her charge.
Your reply missed a chance to say “sophomoric”. 😊
“He that shall live this day, and see old age”, This line does not appear in Folio 1. Instead we have: “He that shall see this day and live old age”. I wonder what convinced Branagh and others to change the Folio1 line. I should be obliged if someone could point out any quarto or other source from which line on this website was taken.
I don’t know Branagh’s motivation, but Laurence Olivier’s film was clearly a bit of very high quality WWII pep talking, especially The Speech.
I would suggest that the historical as well as the Shakespearean Henry V had little fear that he would lose the battle of Agincourt. His speech had, I propose, three distinct purposes. But first, as to the battle defenses that Harry had set up: for forcing of the French to make the advance down the very long muddy approach flanked on both sides with protective forests for his archers, and the dead end capped with horse spikes and the comparative lack of French protection for the horses. This spelled doom for both mounted and ground troops. And as the bodies piled up, there was no room for retreat, the compression of the wide lines by the flanking forests into waves of advancing men with only minutes left to live guaranteed that. Reportedly, some French died not from their wounds, but from drowning in the water, muck, and blood at the bottom of the crush.
Harry had maximized the effectiveness of his archers and turned the cavalry’s and the French men-at-arms numbers into severe disadvantages. Harry had been to war before, as early as his late teens, and suffered a painful wound. No, he and/or his military advisors had, at least in their military studies, been to this rodeo before, and knew exactly what to do to win this battle! Despite his desperate killing of French prisoners when fresh French elements appeared on the field, I believe he had a strong suspicion that in the end, the day would be his.
But his troops didn’t. And Harry again seized a potential weakness and turned it to his long-term advantage. Henry V certainly did not have the full confidence of the realm as did his father. Prior to his “conversion” he had much the same reputation as the present Prince Harry, or perhaps worse. Taking his father’s deathbed advice, he over-reacted to the Dauphine’s arrogance, and started this campaign to weld the kingdom together behind him. But what he really needed, in this still very Catholic England, was a sign of God’s favor. What would be better than a miraculous victory against overwhelming odds? Later in the play, he actually reminds everyone, that this victory was God’s doing. God Himself was his ally! But for the short term, he had to convince first his nobles and then his ground troops. What motivated his nobles? Honor and the attendant influence. His commoner ground troops (mostly archers)? Bragging rights, and brotherhood with the king himself! And Harry throws in a few epitaphs with godly references (not barracks language) for good effect.
How much of Shakespeare’s rendition was fact. Who knows? Shakespeare certainly used the best historical reference of the day. But thankfully, he was never one, either, to let facts stand in the way of a good story.
Sorry, your interpretation of this passage is incorrect: “The man who sheds his blood with me shall be my brother; however humble he may be, this day will elevate his status”. It has nothing to do with the man being humble or having his status elevated.
The speech reads: “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”.
“Be he ne’er so vile” means that even if the man is vile, even if he is the worst-of-the-worst, “This day shall gentle his condition”. This day shall make him acceptable to us/it will make up for or compensate for his actions.
It’s all about redemption for bravery, for standing with your brothers and having that action compensate for all your other failings…
Thank you, Richard, for this observation. Your correction is supported by Henry’s discussion of a soldier’s virtue prior to entering the field of battle in Act 4 Scene 1, so this makes much better sense.
The one battle that I have been reading about lately (I’m familiar enough with the other two) is the Battle of Leyte Gulf. In that battle, which actually featured 4 separate engagements, there was a battle off the Island of Samar in the Philippines, which most closely resembled the 1415 and the 1854 battles in that one force was threatened by a force of superior size. Thirteen American Navy vessels against 23 vessels of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The American side consisted of 6 Carrier Escorts (smaller than a full sized Aircraft Carrier, unarmored and carrying less planes, 3 Destroyers, and 4 Destroyer escorts, smaller than a Destroyer also unarmored, slower, and armed with 5″ guns, (as were Destroyers), smaller caliber anti-aircraft guns, and 3 torpedo launchers (Destroyers carried 10 launchers).
Opposing this force was the Center Force of Japan, 4 Battleships, including The Yamato (the biggest battleship in the world at that time, armed with 18″ guns, among others) 6 Heavy Cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 11 destroyers. At the end of the battle, the Americans were able to turn back the Japanese fleet (with the loss of 2 carrier escorts, 2 destroyers, and a Destroyer escort). I just found that remarkable that the three battles occurred on the same month and day, and they all featured “David vs Goliath” type situations and in 2 of the battles, the underdog prevailed!
VERY GOOD PEOPLE SHOULD LEARN THE LESSIONS OF THE PAST
Thomas, I submit “all people” is correct. The relevant quote, from Santayana, is, ‘Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.’
Why “condemned”? It implies to me that repeating ones past always involves an unhappy past. Consider WWI. Blood and guts on a huge scale; huge collateral damage in the form of civilian casualties.
Twenty years later, nationalism again produced WWII, huger all around.
On 12/9/2020, the date of your post, we were just finishing about 5,000,000 pandemic deaths worldwide, without a shot being fired. Most observers are of the opinion that it was made worse by rampant nationalism. In many countries.
Also in 2020, and not just in the US, changes of leadership were being conducted by ballot or bullet. IOW men were choosing men to run the shows in a time when most problems are man-made. Does that make sense?