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Shakespeare Quotes: Once more to the breach

Shakespeare Quotes: Once more to the breach


Henry V

Once more to the breach Introduction

I'm Henry V. I used to be a rowdy teenager, but now I'm all grown up and taking over the world. I'm the king of England and going to invade France as well. And you know what I think?

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!' (3.1.1-34)

Who Said It and Where

Why is it that kings can never be happy with just one kingdom? Take Henry V. He's already king of England. But then he decides to invade France and make a claim to the French crown, too. It'll require a whole lot of fighting and well-funded troops, but Henry figures, well, why not?

We should tell you that there's a loophole in Salic law that prevented men from inheriting the crown through a female line. In other words, if a king had a daughter, she couldn't inherit the throne and her sons and grandsons couldn't inherit it either. Henry supposedly has a legal right to rule France because his great-great-grandmother (Isabel) was the daughter of the French King Phillip IV.

But Henry doesn't really need convincing. He's ready to invade France and take the crown, loophole or no (although the loophole does conveniently give him an excuse). Sounds easy enough, right?

Not so fast. Taking over a kingdom that's fighting tooth and nail to stop you is no piece of cake. Henry quickly figures this out and knows what his troops need. More men fighting alongside them? Nope. More ammunition? No way, José. A change in the whole let's attack France thing? Now you're just talking crazy.

What his troops need is a rousing speech. Say what?

The scene opens in the middle of the siege of Harfleur. They've just blown up some of the French fortifications. King Henry delivers a famous speech to his troops as he urges them on into a gap (breach). He also tells his troops to channel their inner tigers (seriously) and declares that, if they fight with everything they've got, warfare will make them noble—no matter which way it ends.

To top it all off, he shouts, "God for Harry! England and Saint George!" (Translation: God is fighting for us!) If that doesn't stir you to battle, what will?

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