We happy few, we band of brothers

WITH THESE words, master wordsmith William Shakespeare gives us the perfect motivation punchline. Known as the St Crispin’s Day Speech it was delivered by the English king, Henry V, to inspire his greatly-outnumbered troops before the Battle of Agincourt.

It is so called because October 25, the day of battle, is the feast day of Saints Crispin and Crispinian.

The king uses “we” to identify himself as one of them. We are here together: winning this battle ahead of us is not my problem or your problem or their problem, but a “we” problem. If we lost, we all perished; if we won, we all will be rewarded.

Although the enemy is far bigger, Henry tells his men victory is assured and we are the fortunate, happy people who will enjoy it. There is no hint of failure or defeat.

Not only are we the happy ones, we are also an exclusive lot. Nobody wants to go to a party, watch a show or join an enterprise, where everybody is invited. It must be exclusive, open to only a selected few. In years to come, other men on hearing our story, would wish they were in our place, now.

“We happy few” says it all: shared identity between leader and team, favourable outcome despite the odds, and exclusive reward only for the few.

Full text, Henry V, Act IV, Scene III:

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, “These wounds I had on Crispin's day.”
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 rememb’red.
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 remembered –
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.

October 25 is famous for the battles that occurred on this day: the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the Battle of Balaklava (Charge of the Light Brigade) in the Crimean War in 1854, and the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Pacific War against Japan in 1944.

– Francis Chin, August 20, 2012

Picture: Tom Hiddleston as Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt, BBC TV, July 2012

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Tom Hiddleston as Henry V, BBC TV adaptation