Shakespeare’s Band of Brothers

As the United States of America celebrates its independence of the Thirteen Original American Colonies from British rule, let us remember our American troops stationed overseas and their families left behind on American soil.

In Act IV, Scene III of William Shakespeare’s historical play [amazon_link id=”0451526902″ target=”_blank” ]Henry V[/amazon_link], King Henry (Harry) delivers a speech that reflects a certain patriotic glory. The soldiers of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne division commonly refer to themselves as a “Band of Brothers” a line found in this speech. Read Henry’s speech below and ask yourself why Twenty-first century soldiers identify with its Sixteenth-century sentiments; particularly the lines: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. / For he today that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother” (60 – 61).

Henry’s speech is suggestive of the spirit by which all resilient Medieval kings seemed to have ruled: through the strength of their conviction and by force of their personality. (St. Crispin’s Day is a former Catholic Church Feast Day of 25 October that was dissolved by Vatican II.)

The following text is taken from [amazon_link id=”0199267170″ target=”_blank” ]The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd Edition[/amazon_link] edited by John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor, and Stanley Wells © Oxford University Press 1986, 2005

Stage Direction: Enter King Harry, behind

WARWICK: O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work today.

KING HARRY V: What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Warwick? No, my fair cousin.
If we are marked to die, we are enough
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 ernes 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 presently 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-tiptoe when this day is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day and live t’old age
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, ‘Tomorrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars
And say, ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’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 remembered.
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 remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today 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 accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day. (16 – 67)

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Attention Students: to cite this web article in the current MLA-style, please use the example below.

Dixon, Catherine Jo. “Shakespeare’s Band of Brothers.” Feast Of Languages. Catherine Jo Dixon, 4 July 2011. Web. [today’s date].

Note: The citation entry on the “Works Cited” or “Bibliography” page must have a “hanging indent.” The second line should be indented 5 spaces.

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English literature students most commonly use the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) style to write their papers. This citation reflects the [amazon_link id=”1603290249″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition[/amazon_link] and/or the [amazon_link id=”0873522974″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition[/amazon_link]. For additional information, I recommend a free online writing lab from Purdue University: “The Purdue OWL” https://owl.english.purdue.edu/ which has current, credible information and reliable examples.



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