We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day 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 a-bed
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. – William Shakespeare; Henry V
This is my favorite part of my favorite speech from my favorite Shakespeare play. As I have mentioned before I am a huge Shakespeare fan. When I teach Shakespeare to my 8th graders they always seem a little scared of my enthusiasm, but it is something I cannot help. During one of my weekly pilgrimages to Bookman’s I was casually walking the isles of books when the title Agincourt caught my eye. I literally did a double take and didn’t even read the summary before I bought the book. I was not disappointed.
The battle of Agincourt is one of the most famous in British history. I first heard about it while watching a young Henry VIII repeatedly mention it on The Tudors. I heard about it again when I watched The Hollow Crown series (which is amazing! you should all check it out. BTW Benedict Cumberbatch is going to be in season 2). I immediately fell in love with Henry V, partially because Tom Hiddleston was playing Henry and partially because the Saint Crispin’s Day speech is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever read. The speech was written as Henry’s last attempt to inspire his tired, hungry and miserable army of 11,000 men to face off against 20,000 French. Needless to say France had the advantage. Yet somehow 6,000 Frenchmen died while only 400 Englishmen perished. England’s miraculous victory has fascinated people ever since.
Agincourt was written by the man that gave the world the Sharpe Novels, and Bernard Cornwall’s rendition of this famous invasion of France is dark, gritty and even a little nauseating at times. It follows a young archer named Nick Hook who slowly works his way up in the ranks of Henry’s army after he is outlawed for hitting a rapist priest. The scenes revolving this particular priest are some of the most difficult to get through but he also describes how the campaign began as an exciting chance for glory only to become an exhausting and quite disgusting chore for the soldiers.
Cornwall sets the tone of the novel early and keeps the reader captivated by Hook’s quest for redemption after he fails to save a young girl from the priest. You watch his struggle with religion and morality as he learns what it means to be a soldier. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him fall in love with a French girl, though I also questioned his sanity as he repeatedly hears the voice of Saint Crispin in his head.
My only issue with this book is that the chapters are extremely long, like over 40 pages long. Most of the time I keep reading when I encounter a chapter break, but I still prefer them to be fairly frequent. A chapter break is a time for me to pause and ask myself important questions: Do I need to go to the bathroom? Should I probably go to sleep considering the fact that it’s midnight? I am also a person that hates stopping in the middle of a chapter and the longer the chapters the more impatient I get. I need those brief pauses in order to stay interesting in a book, and while reading this one I repeatedly found myself pointing out possible places for a chapter break instead of solely focusing on the story. However this is just my own, slightly strange opinion, and overall I loved the book. I will definitely be reading more from Cornwall.
Just look at Tom as Henry V. So handsome!
Cornwell, Bernard. Agincourt. New York: Harper, 2009. Print
Henry V. Dir. Thea Sharrock. Perf. Tom Hiddleston. Universal, 2012.
Shakespeare, William, and Gary Taylor. Henry V. Oxford: Clarendon, 1982. Print.