Read Shakespeare’s ‘O For A Muse Of Fire’ quote from Henry V below with modern English translation and analysis, plus a video performance.
‘O For A Muse Of Fire’, Spoken by Chorus, Prologue
O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.
Modern Translation Of ‘O For A Muse Of Fire’
Oh for a muse of fire that would reach the uppermost heights of creativity – the stage a kingdom; actors, princes; and monarchs to watch the awe-inspiring spectacle! Then the warlike Harry, just being himself, would assume the role of Mars, the god of war, and at his heels, leashed in like hounds, famine, bloodshed and fire would crouch, waiting to be let loose. But, ladies and gentlemen, forgive the flat uninspiring actors who dare to represent such a great matter on this wretched stage. Can this small theatre accommodate the vast French countryside? Or can we cram all the fighting men who so terrified Agincourt into this small round ? Oh sorry! But since one figure can represent a million on the stage, allow us – insignificant in this great affair – to get to work on your imaginations. Imagine that within the perimeter of these walls two mighty kingdoms whose cliff-lined coasts, separated by a narrow, dangerous sea, are enclosed. Let your imagination compensate for our inadequacies. Imagine that each man is multiplied by a thousand and create an army for yourself. Imagine, when we talk of horses, that you see them stamping their proud hoof-prints in the soft earth, because it’s your imagination that must enrobe our kings. Move them around, jumping over periods of time, turning the events of several years into the span of a single hour. To help you in that let me be the Chorus to this story. As the Chorus, I humbly beg you to listen courteously to our play and judge it kindly.