Thursday, June 9, 2011

Addendum to yesterday's post on books set in wartime. A few comments about Shakespeare's Henry V.

Because of yesterday's Five Best Books That Take Place During A War blog post and some of the comments, I've been thinking (on a purely surface level) on the subject of war in books and the various reasons why some of us will or won't read books with war as setting or why some of us, like me, for instance, will, in general, only read about certain specific wars. Brings me to the topic of whether there are 'good wars' and/or 'bad wars'. I'll bet many of us have our own definition of what constitutes each and why we might read about one sort of war, but not another. I believe this is possibly one of the more personal areas of reasoning, of  'why we read what we read' - that I can think of. I know our thinking on 'war as subject' is, necessarily a swirling mixture of deeply felt belief, basic personal and world ideologies, illogic, inconsistencies and just plain ignorance of history. Okay, all that's 'a given'. I don't, by the way, exclude myself from that mix.

I am posting one of my favorite 'call to arms' speeches - the St. Crispins Day, band of brothers, speech from Shakespeare's HENRY V. In this instance, a speech delivered superbly by Kenneth Branagh, in a film very worth seeing on many levels. But, in my view, if it were only about this one scene, it would still be worth the money. I am not now, nor will I ever in the future, be joining in any opposing camps discussion of whether Henry V was a good king or a bad one.  I am no historical expert - I am simply using this speech as artistic example to make a point.

Listening to this speech, I always get goose bumps up and down my arms (I am probably conditioned to this by now) and am always emotionally prepared to understand the impact of 'the right words' on men going off to do battle - noting the emotional effect of a great leader doing and saying what the moment clearly needs. Hearing this, I am always ready to jump up and go off to battle myself. It has that basic, that illogical an impact on me. It always takes me a few moments afterwards to realize: wait a minute, wait a minute, I'm being worked on here. But that's what these sorts of speeches are for. And of course, Shakespeare understood this and had the genius to encapsulate it in these beautifully stirring words.

This is probably my favorite speech from Shakespeare, even if it is a used as an emotional propellant for many of these men and boys to go to their deaths - horrible deaths -  on the fields of Agincourt.

Inconsistent? Yeah.
But I said all that going in.


  1. Hello Yvette:
    This 'call to arms' is of course, as you say, one of the most memorable in all of the Shakespeare 'History' plays and does, by its very nature, resonate with so many very varied and mixed emotions.

    On the last occasion we saw the play at Stratford, the role was played by rather a slight Henry with the result that it was all rather more fop than fierce.

  2. Oh, too bad, Jane and Lance. I can't imagine seeing a badly cast HENRY V. I've only ever seen the Branagh version and parts of the Olivier. So I've seen the best, I suppose. Though I wonder what Gielgud would have made of it. Did he ever get to play Henry? Probably not. Just thinking out loud.

  3. Hi Yvette, the image above came up in a search for images of Henry V. Can you tell me its origin? I would like to use it as well but want to make sure I know the source of it. Thanks!

  4. Kevin: I always try to leave a source where there is one. This time around I couldn't find any.

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  6. Hi Yvette,
    I think this portrait of Henry V was created by Kinuko Craft. She is a Japanese American artist and illustrator.


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