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Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: March ::
Re: St. Crispin's Day
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.0378.  Sunday, 23 March 1997.

[1]     From:   Jan Stirm <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 11:04:03 -0600
        Subj:   St. Crispin's Day

[2]     From:   Richard A Burt <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 13:13:58 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   97 Superbowl Henry V

[3]     From:   James P. Lusardi <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 13:16:44 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   RE: SHK 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day

[4]     From:   Paul Nelsen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 13:55:52 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day

[5]     From:   James Marino <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 15:09:19 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day

[6]     From:   Ed Bonahue <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 17:22:38 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0375  St. Crispin's Day

[7]     From:   Alan Rosen <
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        Date:   Friday, 21 Mar 1997 01:37:53 +0300 (WET)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day

[8]     From:   John King <
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        Date:   Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 18:58:08 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day

[9]     From:   Naomi Liebler <
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        Date:   Friday, 21 Mar 97 01:04:32 EDT
        Subj:   RE: SHK 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day

[10]    From:   Andrew Walker White <
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        Date:   Saturday, 22 Mar 1997 10:13:14 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Crispin's Day


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jan Stirm <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 11:04:03 -0600
Subject:        St. Crispin's Day

Hi All,

Re Michael Friedman's question about the importance of St. Crispin's
Day; I seem to remember reading recently (an article or book I can't
bring to mind right now, alas) that at least in part the speech is sadly
ironic because by the late 16th century NO ONE was celebrating St.
Crispin's day, and certainly not as a memorial of the Agincourt battle.
So anyone in the audience might have realized that s/he didn't remember;
this process undermines the "optimism" Henry's trying to produce in his
soldiers.

Now, if someone with a better memory can help me remember where I read
this argument!

Regards, Jan Stirm

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Richard A Burt <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 13:13:58 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        97 Superbowl Henry V

Does anyone happen to have a copy of this year's pregame Locker room
quotation of Henry V's St Crispian's Day speech?  If so, I'd love a copy
of your copy.  Thanks.

Best,
Richard Burt

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James P. Lusardi <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 13:16:44 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day
Comment:        RE: SHK 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day

The quick answer is that this was the day on which the battle was fought
and won.  Isn't that enough?  Is there any other question to be asked?
If one concedes that there might be - and Henry's six references to
Crispian or Crispin in twenty-six lines suggest that there might be -
perhaps it has to do with these martyred brothers being the patron
saints of humble shoemakers.  In the same lines, Henry insists that the
humblest to fight with him "Shall be my brother."  My colleague John
Timpane adds that at Agincourt the lowest of the English defeated the
flower of French chivalry.

Jim Lusardi,
Lafayette College

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Nelsen <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 13:55:52 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day

Dear Michael,

Francois Laroque offers an interesting view on the dramatic resonance of
Henry's ironic appropriation of a festive holiday as a means of
compelling his troops into battle.  See his chapter "Festivity and Time
in Shakespeare's Plays," especially page 207, in SHAKESPEARE'S FESTIVE
WORLD (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991). For example, Laroque observes:
"Festivity, rushing headlong in the opposite direction to the course of
time, repeatedly stopped in its tracks by the principle of reality, is
eventually shattered by the machinery of war and reasons of state."  The
collision between expectations of holiday and the call to battle adds
dramatic spark to the moment as well as sparkle in Henry's rhetoric.
Laroque notes the consonance (and anagramatic connection) of "FEAST of
Crispian" (4.3.40) and "FEATS" (4.3.51) of those who earn their wounds
on Crispin's day.  Laroque's views need to be grasped in the context of
his larger discussion of how original audiences would have associated
with holidays.  Have a look.

Paul

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Marino <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 15:09:19 -0700
Subject: 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day

The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, David Hugh Farmer, OUP 1978 gives the
information that the martyr brothers, although probably French but
usually thought of as Roman, were the subject of an unlikely tradition
that had them fleeing persecution and practicing their cobbler's trade
in Faversham, a tradition recorded as late as the 17th Century. I have
always supposed, given the emphasis in the speech on brotherhood under
fire, that the day was appropriate to that theme.  The speech is
mentioned by Farmer in the entry on Crispin and Crispian.

[6]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ed Bonahue <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 17:22:38 -0500 (EST)
Subject: 8.0375  St. Crispin's Day
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0375  St. Crispin's Day

I'm happy to take a shot at Michael Friedman's query about Crispin and
Crispian.  But I'd start by rephrasing the question of why "Shakespeare
chose to emphasize" this date into why _Henry_ chooses to emphasize it.

At this point in H5, of course, Henry is almost desperate to rally his
troops in the face of far greater French forces.  Here, as in all of his
rallying speeches, Henry's rhetoric plays with the language of social
status.  He promises his "band of brothers," even the "vile"
foot-soldiers, that their deeds in the upcoming battle will "gentle
their condition."  That is, they will be raised from their status as
farmers and workers into "gentlemen."

I think the reference to Crispin and Crispian has a bit of the same
ideological baggage attached to it.  Crispin and Crispian, according to
legend, were princes driven from their palace, who became shoemakers and
worked among the commoners (for a while) to earn an honest living.
Borrowing from the status of these and other figures, the shoe-making
trade (in actuality a rather poor profession) referred to itself as "the
gentle craft"-as in Deloney's fiction and Dekker's _The Shoemaker's
Holiday_.  As a haven for gentles down on their luck, and as a means,
too, of advancing oneself in status (see Deloney and Dekker), the Gentle
Craft of shoemaking sometimes stood, in popular culture, for the
mythical possibility of social mobility.

Is all of this in Henry's speech?  Obviously not.  But Henry's emphasis
on Crispin and Crispian probably recalled-for his troops and for the
theatrical audience too-the popular stories in which princes and
commoners worked together.  A charming story, of course, in a class
system that was usually quite rigid.  In any case, see Deloney's _The
Gentle Craft, Part 1_ (1598?) for the story of Crispin and Crispian as
it was popularized in Shakespeare's time.

Ed Bonahue
University of Florida

[7]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Alan Rosen <
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Date:           Friday, 21 Mar 1997 01:37:53 +0300 (WET)
Subject: 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day

Dear Michael,

Try looking at Jonathan Baldo's nice article, "Wars of Memory in Henry
V," SQ 47.2 Summer '96. I hope the article is helpful.  Best, Alan Rosen

[8]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John King <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Mar 1997 18:58:08 -0600
Subject: 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day

Don't know if this helps, but perhaps there is significance in the
legend from which the commemorative holiday (Oct. 25) had its origins.
Crispin and Crispian were two Christian brothers living in Rome under
the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, who savagely persecuted
Christians.  The two (whose names must have been the source of much
confusion) fled into Gaul (which was to become France by the time of
Henry V) and went into hiding, disguising themselves and living as
shoemakers in a place called Soissons. Eventually, they were caught by
the Romans (in 286? AD) and beheaded.  Thus they became genuine
Christian martyrs, later canonized and held as the patron saints of
shoemakers. According to Isaac Asimov (from whose book on Shakespeare I
have gleaned my information), the holiday known as St. Crispin's Day was
celebrated with particular vigor in France.  He is silent, however, on
the subject of why such stress is placed on the date.  Perhaps it is
because the bulk of the speech in Shakespeare's play is taken from
Holinshed (embellished and poeticized, of course), and Holinshed's Henry
mentions the holiday.

As for the stress on this date the speech contains, who knows why?
Shakespeare may have been taken by the irony of having this great
English victory on a major French holiday, or he may have been drawing a
parallel between these two working class martyrs, commemorated by a date
forever, and the thousands of potential martyrs he is addressing, or-
more than likely-both.  Having played Henry, I can say that I played on
this latter aspect, using the association between the two shoemakers and
the English army to help add another layer of motivation to the address-
for me, the speech was all about motivating the men, setting them on
fire, as a last hope against the impossible odds presented by the huge,
rested French army.  Or perhaps, the historical date of the battle
provided the playwright with a perfect dramatic device to hook his
speech on.  All I know is that when I researched the role, I found very
little about this subject myself.  I will be greatly interested in
reading any submissions that come in from others about it!

John King

[9]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Naomi Liebler <
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Date:           Friday, 21 Mar 97 01:04:32 EDT
Subject: 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day
Comment:        RE: SHK 8.0375  Q: St. Crispin's Day

Regarding Henry's St Crispin's Day speech: This is surely one of the
most successful coaching strategies ever devised.

There is no mention of dying; at worst the soldiers will bear scars like
trophies and live in elevated status as the king's "brothers,"  the envy
of those now safe at home. Moreover, they will become the heroes of
Saint Crispin's Day, October 25, the feast day of the patron saints of
shoemakers, the brothers Crispinus and Crispianus, who fled Rome during
the tyranny of Diocletian and became martyrs for Christianity in A.D.
287. Henry's choice of holiday for his would-be veterans is politically
astute: Saint Crispin's day is a working-class holiday, a feast for
foot-soldiers, and promises remembrance for the survivors, if any, when
they return to their communities.   New-made "brothers" to the king,
they will be princes among shoemakers, and the king will be one of the
brotherhood. After the battle of Agincourt, when Henry confronts the
hapless Williams with the glove he took from him in his mock-challenge,
Henry attempts to buy Williams' dignity by filling the glove with
crowns, which Williams proudly refuses. Fluellen then reminds him that
the money "will serve you to mend your shoes. Come, wherefore should you
be so pashful? Your shoes is not so good" (IV.viii.63-65).

Henry has figuratively altered the signification of a religious
(Christian) holiday to encompass a political reference that will exalt
both himself and his common soldiers. This kind of alteration seems to
have greatly interested Shakespeare at the time he wrote this play.  The
date of Henry V  has been fixed Henry has figuratively altered the
signification of a religious (Christian) holiday to encompass a
political reference that will exalt both himself and his common
soldiers. This kind of alteration seems to have greatly interested
Shakespeare at the time he wrote this play.  The date of _Henry V_ has
been fixed reliably at summer 1599 (owing to the Chorus' Act V reference
to Essex's Irish campaign, which ended on September 28 and by late
summer was known to have been a failure. The very next play to be staged
was _Julius Caesar_, whose performance is fixed at late September/early
October of the same year. In that play, too, Shakespeare shows the
consequences that obtain when a political leader alters the nature of a
religious holiday (the Lupercal) to suit his own ambitions.  Saint
Crispin's day is October 25; the performance of _Julius Caesar_
coincided with St. Michael's day (Michaelmas), October 10, which
celebrated, among other things, market fairs and governmental
transitions such as the investment of the Lord Mayor of London. It may
be that the plays and these autumnal holidays taken together anchored
for Shakespeare's audience an acute awareness of the relations between
ruler and subject, and of the mutability of government within the
context of those relations.
.
Hope this helps, Michael. Cheers,
Naomi Liebler

[10]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Andrew Walker White <
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Date:           Saturday, 22 Mar 1997 10:13:14 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Crispin's Day

What strikes me as odd is that Saints Crispin and Crispianus (patrons of
cobblers, perhaps?) are both French saints.  It is my understanding that
in those days, you conducted business on days that were considered
lucky, and the French certainly would have regarded this October day as
a good one for battle.

This raises the possibility (nowhere in Shakespeare's text) that Henry's
reference to Crispin and Crispianus was sarcastic.  We're fighting them
on their saints' day, so let's give them hell, sort of thing.

I'm also curious if this was also an English saint's day.

Good question, one which I've pondered a bit myself.

Andy White
Alrington, VA
 

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