Tis passing strange those tidy events which drift thru our lives and inspire us to read the bard…J It was a losing season for my boys basketball team. We had lost every game that season and as we faced our final game against a team which had beaten us by 35 points earlier in the season. My friend the band instructor, paused to give me some coaching advice. “It is time to read your team a passage from Henry V,” he advised. And so I did.
"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 remember'd.
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 remember'd;
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."
I recently finished a book by Bernard Cornwell titled Agincourt. It is the story of a young forester brought by his Lord to serve in Henry V's army. That army characterized by Shakespeare in Henry V as "we band of brothers.”
Agincourt: Fought on 25 October 1415 in northern France, it is one the greatest battles in history.. In August 1415, Henry landed on the Normandy coast near Honfleur and set up his big guns in front of what was supposed to be an impregnable walled city. The bombardment destroyed the main gate completely, and the garrison surrendered.
But then an outbreak of fever seriously depleted his forces. Despite this, he set off across France with what was left of his army - 6,000 men, mostly archers. This was a very risky venture, for a French army of 14,000 was now shadowing him. When the French blocked his route, he had no alternative but to fight, with the odds against him more than three to one.
Henry knew that a general in command of a comparatively small but disciplined army had a good chance of bringing off a tactical success, provided he knew what he was doing. And he did. He chose to fight on a muddy field, with thick woods on either side. When the enormous French cavalry force hesitated to charge into the mud, Henry ordered his archers to advance within bow shot - 250 yards - and open fire. It was a maneuver that suggests they had had first-class training in battle conditions. The French tried to wheel their horses and back off, so turning the ranks of horsemen behind them into total confusion. The great struggling mass became an easy target for endless volleys of arrows.
The main plot, English archers versus the iron clad knights of France follows history very well. The sub plot of the young forester and his French maiden brings it all to life. I have never seen a book that so realistically describes the nitty gritty, down and dirty, aspects of medieval warfare like this. If the book was a movie I would rate it R for extreme violence, rough language, and sex. Still the book accurately reflects those times.
Actually it’s been a movie several times. Henry the Fifth starring Sir Laurence Olivier. And more recently there is a new version starring Kenneth Branagh. Both outstanding films.
As to my Shakespearean inspired team. Well, they had a tough act to follow. The previous two years had seen their predecessors, two undefeated teams, winning 57 straight games. In the final game of the season, they took the Stewartville Tigers in a slowdown, hold the ball game (run and gun would have led to another crushing defeat) to the final minute with the score tied. We took a good shot and missed. The Tigers rebounded and rushing the ball down the floor shot and missed with about ten seconds left. Bigger and stronger they got the offensive rebound and put back. We lost but I’ve never been prouder of a team. They fought to the end, never giving up to a much stronger more athletic team. btw Our schools mascot is a knight. King Henry V would have been proud too….