This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Saturday Rave: St Crispin's Day by William Shakespeare.

October 25th was the six hundredth anniversary of the battle of Agincourt.

Ah yes, that great romantic battle. 

Now, I realise that romantic battle is the oxymoron to end all oxymorons. Agincourt will have been far more gore than gloire (and it turned out anyway to be a rather inconsequential battle). 

So where on earth does the romance come from?

From this:

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...

This day is called the feast of Crispian
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian
From this day to the ending of the world
But we in it shall be remembered...

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he 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 accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon St Crispin's day.

There you have it. The terrible, inescapable, fatal magic of words.

Those passages are from Henry V's speech to his troops before the battle of Agincourt, as told by William Shakespeare in his play Henry V. The fact that Henry made a speech is in the historical record, but we're not sure what he said, except that it's claimed he mentioned the French threat to cut off the fingers of every English archer (which may have led to the two-fingered gesture of defiance that was still in common use in Britain within living memory).

That Shakespeare is a great writer is obvious, but think of this: with so much power at his command - the power to move hosts to tears, to joy, to killing - he never (as far as we know) used it to harm a single soul.

Now that's a really remarkable sort of greatness.

Word To Use Today: blood. The Old English form of this word was blōd.

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