An Oldie But Goodie–“Henry the V…Minutes”

I first wrote this piece in (I think) 2003.   A local SCA group had been holding “The Agincourt Memorial Tournament” for many years, complete with a “battle” where the fighters chose to fight as English or French, and an archery shoot.   I was surprised that there hadn’t been incorporation of the play in living memory at this event, and I was happy to supply an incorporation.

It wasn’t written, initially, to be performed solo, but as narration to accompany a dumbshow, with some actors having been cast as recently as the day of the event.    I stopped performing it as I gradually did more solo work, but I have toyed with the notion of performing it by myself over the years.    Of course, if I find a suitable number of willing actors, I might could be persuaded to narrate it again  8)


The Chorus wishes “for a muse of fire”;
The crowd’s indulgence is his chief desire
As humble players tramp across the floor
To enflesh the heroic tale of Agincourt.
The English Henry challenged Charles of France
To yield his crown, or face a warrior’s dance;
The Dauphin prince then “Harry’s” youth recalls
And lobs, in answer, Paris tennis balls.
Duke Exeter to France is therefore sent
With grim news of his monarch’s warlike bent,
And in that moment, King and Dauphin learned
Their mock had tennis balls to gunstones turned.

(Also, Sir John Falstaff is dead)

The Chorus takes Hal from the English beach
Across the Channel, up to Harfleur’s breach
And as they ladders bring to scale the wall,
The King sends forth a stirring rallying call:
“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;
Dishonor not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war.   The game’s afoot;
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England and Saint George!”

Bereft of defense, Harfleur’s governor yields,
Opens to English bows and swords and shields.
But all this while, King Henry’s promised bride
Learns English lessons at her duenna’s side.
Young Katherine would speak well with English fellows
If all she needed say were “Hand!” and “Bilbo!”
To Agincourt the Chorus takes us now.
Refuses still the king of France to bow.
His cavalry think Henry’s army small,
And guess th’outnumbered foe will swiftly fall.
But through the English camp, a shrouded sight–
“A little touch of Harry in the night”.
One hour he spends in guise of common man,
Then takes his royal mantle up again
Exhorting soldiers for the fight to come.

“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.
This story shall the good man teach his son
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go forth
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 accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
Who fought with us upon St. Crispin’s Day.

The pouring rain the battlefield had churn’d;
The ground an unfit place to horse was turn’d.
As Gower and Fluellen lead the way,
With bow and pike the English win the day;
Ten thousand Frenchmen lay among the dead
To thirty English losses, so twas said.
A modest man, the King forbids a fuss
Saying “This was won by God and not by us”

(:::singing::: “Non nobis Domine, non nobis”)

The final act tells of Fluellen’s leek;
How one rude soldier mockingly did speak
And bad him eat the badge of Wales he wore.
Fluellen beat that prating knave full sore,
And fed the leek to him against his will.
Then Hal met Kate, her English broken still;
His French fared nothing better.  Still, they found
Between their speeches happy common ground.
The monarchs treaties signed, they did not tarry,
And just that quickly, Katherine wedded Harry.

“Thus far, with rude and all-uncertain pen
The bending author hath pursued the story.
In little room confining mighty men
Mangling by starts the full course of their glory.
Small time; but in that small most greatly lived
This Star of England.”


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