October 23, 2014

WATCH ME IF YOU CAN | These Wounds I Had on Crispin’s Day

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By MARINA CAITLIN WATTS

St. Crispin’s Day will be upon us in less than a fortnight! There is a good chance that the only way anyone would know what this holiday could even be is if you have seen Kenneth Branagh in his film adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Henry V (1989). Or Sir Laurence Olivier, decades ago, for that matter.

St. Crispin’s Day is an underrated holiday. It takes place every year on October 25. It celebrates twins, Crispin and Crispinian who were martyred on this day in the third century. This feast day is most memorable for the fact that the battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years War took place on this day. We have the Bard to thank for, as far as people knowing what significance this day holds goes.

Shakespeare dramatizes the battle of Agincourt in Henry V, which took place in 1415 on St. Crispin’s Day. This “band of brothers” went on to be a major victory for the English during the Hundred Years War (which, actually, lasted 116 years). Despite the fact that the English was significantly outnumbered by the French, Henry led his men into a victorious battle. The challenge of convincing Henry’s men that they indeed have a chance to come out victorious is attacked by his moving words. For honor, for justice and for England become enough reason to proceed into battle despite the diminishing faith the army may have.

The St. Crispin’s Day Speech is eloquent, fierce and its scene is important. The play Henry V focuses around the gruesome conquest of France under this English king, portrayed by Kenneth Branagh. This version of the play even features an extremely young Christian Bale.

The speech is made when Henry V rallies his troops before they face an enormous French force. The incredible charisma that the king had is brought to life by Branagh’s enthusiasm. This moment is the most important for Henry in the entire play. He claims that no matter what your rank, this battle will make you noble in his eyes, fighting for your country. It is proof that he can be a great leader.

The speech itself has become the basis for other battle speeches in films, including Braveheart and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. The profound effect it has left on screenwriters and playwrights alike should not go unnoticed, as it is heralded as one of the most inspirational speeches in literature. Branagh’s poise and Shakespearean recitation is a beautiful thing here. His powerful presence in the play makes it a memorable scene. He also leaves viewers wanting to pick up a copy of the play once the film is finished to read aloud the verses themselves.

Basically, if you haven’t seen it yet because you’ve been too preoccupied with the godawful ‘96 Romeo + Juliet, do yourself a favor and be sure to watch it (or at least the clip I’ve attached). This speech has been ranked many times as one of the best that Shakespeare has penned, and your English professor will gladly agree with me.

The battle becomes the centerpiece for the play, and it should be celebrated for that reason. It is a defining moment for Henry, despite the fact that his friends die or become disenchanted by the rest of the war. His character needed this victory, as it completed him on a deeper level than jurisdictionally.

In order to commemorate such a glorious day, I would recommend a nice pie, some Shakespeare reading of Henry V Act IV Scene III (aloud, as the play was written for that purpose). If you do not feel unstoppable after watching this scene I’m not sure what will bring such a profound effect on you.

Marina CaitlIn Watts is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She may be reached at cwatts@cornellsun.com. Watch Me If You Can appears Fridays this semester.