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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: October ::
St. Crispin's Day
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.2135  Friday, 25 October 2002

From:           Al Magary <
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Date:           Thursday, 24 Oct 2002 16:01:55 -0700
Subject:        St. Crispin's Day

Today, Oct. 25, was the feast day of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian, and
the 587th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.  Shakespeare has Henry
V famously exhort his men by calling on Crispin (at 4.3.18ff):

        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.
        He that shall see this day and live t'old age
        Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours
        And say, 'Tomorrow is Saint Crispian...'

And there are three more references to St. Crispin in this speech, for a
total of six.

It seems that Shakespeare merged Crispin and Crispinian into one, and
called him variously Crispin, Crispian, and Crispin Crispian.  Regarding
them in the plural, who were they?   Dr. Phyllis Jestice's "Saints of
the Day" daily email to the Medieval-Religion list has this:

"Crispin and Crispinian (d. c. 287) There are two alternative views on
these two brothers.  A late legend reports that they went to preach in
Gaul, where they lived as shoemakers until caught up in a persecution,
tortured, sentenced to a variety of lurid executions that all failed,
and were finally beheaded.  A more prosaic modern interpretation is that
they may have been early Roman martyrs whose relics were sent to
Soissons."

Gary Taylor's edition of H5 summarizes the link to Shakespeare by saying
that the brothers were the patron saints of shoemakers and that the
feast day was listed in Elizabethan and Jacobean almanacs, and was
important into the 17th century.  Brewer's Phrase & Fable elaborates by
saying the brothers were patron saints of not just shoemakers but also
saddlers and tanners.

But what accounts for Shakespeare's repeated invocation of "Crispian"?
The speech is startlingly democratic in its call, which suggests that
such references to Crispian would resonate strongly in the audience.
Were these French or Roman saints as popular as that in Protestant
England?

Al Magary

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