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I thought we'd start the conversation about the first of the histories I'm doing a little differently. Perhaps backwards, even. You may recall back on June 1st when I kicked off "Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month", I gave some reasons for wanting to do these posts. Here's the relevant bit for today:

I confess to a nerdy desire to be able to quote him a bit more often. This nerdiness is not mine alone; I say that not just because of the authors I know who invoke the Bard in their own writing, but also based on my telephone conversation with my brother, in which I told him what I was up to for June. He immediately launched into the St. Crispian's day speech from Henry V. I really ought to challenge him to a nerd-off some time. But I digress.

Well, I digress no longer. Not that I'm challenging him to a "nerd-off", really, but today, I thought I'd introduce you to my brother, Keith. Make that Major Keith Ramsdell, U.S.A.F. (And if you think I haven't thought about jokes about him being a major pain, you're mistaken. But since he just got to pin on the rank this month, I'm giving him a grace period.)

Keith enlisted in the Air Force twenty-five years ago. He's been stationed in New Jersey, Germany, Washington State, Alaska, Colorado, Guam. While in the Air Force, Keith went to college; in 1997, he graduated St. Martin's College with honors and a Bachelor's Degree in English Literature. (This is exceedingly funny to the entire family, since he nearly failed English in high school, mostly due to lack of interest.) Keith completed Officer Training School in 1999 and became a commissioned officer. Since then, he's done a number of interesting things, including tracking Santa for NORAD, earning his EMS certification in Alaska, and learning to scuba dive while stationed in Guam. Currently, he's stationed in South Carolina, where he's Assistant Professor of Aerospace Studies (Air Force R.O.T.C.) at The Citadel. In his prior position as Flight Commander for the Air Forces's only Combat Camera Squadron, Keith served two combat tours - one in Iraq and one in the Horn of Africa, and he led response teams to Thailand and Indonesia after the tsunami in December 2004 and to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. He was still a captain when the photo on the right was taken, in case anyone out there is well-versed in stars and bars and wondered. When he's not on duty, he's been known to fly to Kenya and Central America to do mission work. As I suppose you can tell, I am prodigiously proud of him.

Before we start, you should know that there's going to be a lot of discussion of the St. Crispin's Day speech found in Act IV, sc. 3 of Henry V. Perhaps you'd like to watch Branagh as Harry (King Henry). Although the clip runs 5:14, the speech is actually over at the 2:36 mark, so it will literally require only a few minutes of your time to see what all the (upcoming) fuss is about.

So here's me, starting the conversation:

Kelly: Back when I first mentioned to you that I was doing a whole month's worth of posts about Shakespeare at my blog, you pretty much immediately launched into the St. Crispian's Day speech that Henry says to rouse his troops before the battle at Agincourt. I didn't find anything odd about you having memorized lines from Shakespeare, but now I'm wondering - why did that speech immediately come to mind for you? What is it about that speech that you liked so much that you opted to spend time to memorize it? And how did you go about memorizing it?

Keith: I don't recall when I first heard the St. Crispin's Day speech, but it has always struck me as being a great example of a motivational speech. I think I started to memorize it after watching the Kenneth Branagh version of Henry V and, oddly enough, the movie Renaissance Man with Danny DeVito, where a young soldier quotes the speech after his drill instructor orders him to "let me hear some."

Still Keith: After watching both movies once or twice, I picked up some of the lines. Once I had a few lines memorized, I went back to the text of the play and learned the rest of the speech.

Why this speech? I can't really say. As a military officer I appreciate what he is saying, and as an English major and admitted lexophile, I love the language used. He's responding to the Earl of Westmoreland who, acknowledging that they are outnumbered in the coming battle, says that it would be nice to have "but one ten thousand of those men in England that do no work to-day." [Act IV, sc. 3] Henry, in his response, says not only would he want no more than they have, but any man who doesn't want to be there should be paid off and sent home. This is the kind of motivation that men (particularly military men) love. Bring it on! The bigger the challenge, the greater the glory. "Pain heals, chicks dig scars, glory lasts forever!" (Keanu Reeves in The Replacements).

Since learning this speech, I've used it in leadership classes, often alongside the speech from Independence Day when Bill Pullman, as the president, speaks to the troops before the final battle.

Still Keith: Dwight Eisenhower said that "leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." To do that, you have to inspire them and speeches like this one [the St. Crispin's Day speech] are exceptionally inspiring.

Why? I think that any truly inspiring speech has to have a few elements. First, the speaker has to show confidence in himself (or herself), but not over-confidence. Perhaps the best way to put it is that confidence must be tempered by an acknowledgment of the truth of the situation. Second, share the dream—tell them what life could be like in the future. (Think about Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech.) Third, let your people know that you are one of them. Men will follow a leader into battle if they know that the leader is fighting beside them. (This is one reason that knights and even modern soldiers carry their "colors" into battle. It is a visible sign that the soldiers can rally behind.)

So how does this apply to the St. Crispin's Day speech? First, Henry stands in front of his men showing nothing but confidence in the outcome of the battle, but he doesn't sugar coat things; he acknowledges that not everyone will survive the battle ("he that outlives this day, and comes safe home"). Second, he stirs them with images of their lives as heroes ("old men forget; yet all shall be forgot, but he'll remember with advantages what feats he did that day"). Finally, he ends the speech by telling the men assembled that they will not only be his brothers in arms, but they will also be raised to the rank of gentlemen ("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"). Sure, this last bit is admittedly a false promise as Henry would never raise a bunch of ignorant soldiers to the rank of gentlemen (and they wouldn't expect it), but he knows that it's what they want to hear. All in all, a perfectly inspirational speech.

Kelly: Ooh - excellent response. I love how you tied all that together. I particularly love the lines about "we few, we happy few, we band of brothers", but I suppose this is the bit of the speech that I remember best from the first hearing of the play:
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.
  Act IV, sc. 3

I remember rushing home to read the full text of the play, with a particular need to read that portion over again.

Still Kelly: What's your take on Shakespeare "improving" English history and the reputation of this particular king by giving him such an amazing speech? Do you think that, armed with knowledge of the decisive outcome in the fight with the French (due to superior fire-power), he decided such a moment must have occurred, or that it should have occurred, or do you think he just wrote it because he liked the sound of it? (Not that it matters what we think, really.)

Keith: Henry V is, notably, a very controversial play for just the reason that you mention. Shakespeare did indeed "improve" history, but I think that is what is expected (both then and, perhaps to a lesser extent, now) of a drama. The footnotes in my copy of The Riverside Shakespeare indicate that Shakespeare based this speech on a report by Holinshed (an English chronicler who died in 1580) that when Henry "heard one of the host utter his wish to another thus: I would to God there were with us now so manie good soldiers as are at this houre within England! the king answered: I would not wish a man more here than I have, we are indeed in comparison to the enimies but a few, but if God of his clemencie doo favour us, and our just cause (as I trust he will) we shall speed well inough." Shakespeare took this statement, attributed to Henry V, and fleshed it out into the more noble and grandiose speech that we are all familiar with.

Kelly: Do you think that when he wrote it, he had any inkling that it might be used to inspire people centuries later?

Keith: I don't think Shakespeare ever really expected his plays to have the lasting impact that they did. I believe that he wrote for his company (troupe) and his audience. If anything, he might expect that future playwrights would borrow from him (as he and his contemporaries were known to do) and therefore his plays might live on in some form, but I seriously doubt he ever expected to be one of the fathers of the canon of English literature.

Kelly: What do you think of the bawdier bits of the play? (The exchange about the tennis balls comes to mind - my copy of Filthy Shakespeare assures me that the balls whereof he speaks are not necessarily suited to tennis rackets.)

Keith: Katharine and Alice hold a discussion (in French) during which Katharine is trying to learn some English. In her attempt to do so, she mispronounces chin as "sin" and mistakes foot for "foutre" (fuck) and cown (gown) for "con" (cunt).

Kelly: My source tells me that all of the body parts that she's naming were sexual slang terms at the time as well, so her entire scene probably got a LOT of laughs from audiences in her time.

1. The conversation between King Henry V and the Ambassador from the Dauphin from Act I, sc. 2, which involves a triple entendre - on the surface it's about tennis, it's also about war, and it's also about who has the biggest balls. Henry says, in part,

When we have march'd our rackets to these balls,
We will, in France, by God's grace, play a set
Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard.

2. In Act II, sc. 3, Mistress Quickly (the brothel-keeper) describes Falstaff's death (during masturbation - he died as he lived, and altogether not a bad way to go).

3. In Act III, sc. 7, the Dauphin, Orleans, and the Constable engage in a rather protracted comparison between their mistresses and their horses:

Nay, the man hath no wit that cannot, from the
rising of the lark to the lodging of the lamb, vary
deserved praise on my palfrey: it is a theme as
fluent as the sea: turn the sands into eloquent
tongues, and my horse is argument for them all:
'tis a subject for a sovereign to reason on, and for
a sovereign's sovereign to ride on; and for the
world, familiar to us and unknown to lay apart
their particular functions and wonder at him. I
once writ a sonnet in his praise and began thus:
'Wonder of nature,'--

I have heard a sonnet begin so to one's mistress.

Then did they imitate that which I composed to my
courser, for my horse is my mistress.

Your mistress bears well.

Me well; which is the prescript praise and
perfection of a good and particular mistress.

Nay, for methought yesterday your mistress shrewdly
shook your back.

So perhaps did yours.

Mine was not bridled.

O then belike she was old and gentle; and you rode,
like a kern of Ireland, your French hose off, and in
your straight strossers.

You have good judgment in horsemanship.

Be warned by me, then: they that ride so and ride
not warily, fall into foul bogs. I had rather have
my horse to my mistress.

I had as lief have my mistress a jade.

I tell thee, constable, my mistress wears his own hair.

I could make as true a boast as that, if I had a sow
to my mistress.

'Le chien est retourne a son propre vomissement, et
la truie lavee au bourbier;' thou makest use of any thing.

Yet do I not use my horse for my mistress, or any
such proverb so little kin to the purpose.

Keith: Ancestry note - we are cousins to the real Henry V. If we go back on the Plantagenet line, we eventually get to Edward III who married Philippa of Haunault. Philippa's mother was Jeanne (Joan) de Valois. Jeanne's brother was Philip VI, whose great-grandson, Charles VI, plays a role in Shakespeare's play. Charles VI's daughter, Catherine de Valois, marries Henry V (House of Lancaster). I don't even want to consider how many generations and how many times removed we are, but we are cousins.

My heartfelt thanks to Keith for entertaining my questions, and hopefully entertaining my readers as well.

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( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 11th, 2009 12:11 pm (UTC)
"Since learning this speech, I've used it in leadership classes, often alongside the speech from Independence Day when Bill Pullman, as the president, speaks to the troops before the final battle."

Very cool! When my mom bought the VHS of Independence Day, this movie became almost a family tradition - we watched it all the time. Just after the part where Pullman speaks to the troops, my step-dad would always jump up and cheer.
Jun. 11th, 2009 12:25 pm (UTC)
I remember cheering wildly after the Pullman speech when I first saw it at the movies - it's quite the speech! The Henry V speech is just as inspirational, but I confess to it having given me chills rather than causing me to cheer.
Jun. 11th, 2009 12:41 pm (UTC)
I wish I connected to this play, but I just don't. We did this my senior year in college, and even in rehearsals with a director that I loved, the words just never jumped off the page for me. Though if I'd known that Falstaff died that way, I probably would have delivered the whole thing differently!
Jun. 11th, 2009 01:36 pm (UTC)
Undoubtedly his last lines of "O God! God! God!" are hilariously funny when one realizes that he's reached orgasm just before croaking. What a way to go.

Edited at 2009-06-11 01:36 pm (UTC)
Jun. 11th, 2009 01:01 pm (UTC)
Tanita Says :)
YES! -- that Independence Day speech is THE BEST, and it does very much parallel the greatness of the St. Crispin's Day.

My gosh, your brother is full-on made of awesome. Your parents must be **so proud** to have such brilliant kids. And yes, I'd PAY to see a nerd-off. I'm just sayin'.
Jun. 11th, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC)
Re: Tanita Says :)
Keith is pretty impressive, n'est-çe pas? I think he's correct about the Keanu Reeves quote as well, which is a much-abbreviated version.
Jun. 12th, 2009 11:12 am (UTC)
Re: Tanita Says :)
Nerd-off! Nerd-off! Nerd-off!

Thanks for sharing Keith with us. I want to know more about the Combat Camera Squadron. Do you think he'd agree to be interviewed at some later date, when I'm featuring "cool military men and women and what they do and read" as part of the Operation Yes promo? (Will have punchier, shorter name when I think of it.)
Jun. 12th, 2009 02:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Tanita Says :)
I'll ask him for you, and if he says yes, I'll introduce you by email. How's that?
Jun. 12th, 2009 02:29 pm (UTC)
Re: Tanita Says :)
Perfect. Thanks.
Jun. 11th, 2009 01:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for sharing such moving speeches. I especially loved the St.Crispin's speech in Band of Brothers, truly brought tears to my eyes, now that's incredible writing!As for your brother, what a wonderful honorable man, and you should be very proud to call him family. It's comforting to know that men like that are there always fighting and supporting any disaster that may come our way...
Jun. 11th, 2009 01:50 pm (UTC)
The HBO series, Band of Brothers, took its name from this passage (as did the book on which the HBO series was based). The clip above marked "Band of Brothers" is from Renaissance Man, which I confess I've never seen. But the speech is verbatim from Shakespeare. Pretty excellent that 400 years later, it's still so powerful and, well, good!
Jun. 11th, 2009 03:09 pm (UTC)
Love this post. Your bro is pretty smart, huh? No surprise.
Jun. 11th, 2009 03:50 pm (UTC)
Yep - he's a smart one. Quite the Renaissance man in his own right. He also plays guitar and recorder, is a computer wiz, a crack photographer, and has a large collection of books on a somewhat obscure North American author known as Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz. And he can juggle.
Jun. 11th, 2009 10:23 pm (UTC)

But seriously, Kelly, another great, informative, thought-provoking post. I especially enjoyed hearing your brother's take on the play, and what the core of an inspiring speech is.
Jun. 12th, 2009 01:10 am (UTC)
My baby brother kicked some butt with his "inspiring speech" analysis, didn't he? I particularly liked the bit about acknowledging the reality of the situation. (I will risk saying that our former president sometimes refused to acknowledge the reality of situations, and it was one of the reasons that I distrusted him and found his speeches lacking, whereas I'm happier with Obama because he does tend to acknowledge the situation on the ground. Not that he's always right, but still, realistic is reassuring.)
Jun. 12th, 2009 01:10 am (UTC)
Also? If anyone I know could totally kick some alien ass, it's you.
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 13th, 2009 07:01 pm (UTC)
Seriously, you should have heard us on the phone.

Me: Shakespeare month.
Keith: *St. Crispin's day speech, from memory*
Me: *Much Ado lines from memory*
Keith: *Different Much Ado lines from memory, shifting to A Midsummer Night's Dream*
Me: *Different lines from A Midsummer Night's Dream*

You get the picture . . .
(Deleted comment)
Jun. 14th, 2009 10:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Nerdz rool
I don't often have conversations like that with anyone in my family, either, although I hope to start more of that with my brother - it's interesting!

My mother finally read the copy of Guernsey LAPPS I gave her, and she liked it, too. That book is really wonderful, I think - it appeals to lots of people across a variety of ages and interest levels. M liked it, Angela and I loved it, my mother liked it, my mother-in-law loved it. Whether people like beach reads or literary novels, everyone I know who's read it seems to approve of that book, which is a very rare thing indeed.
Jul. 17th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
It seems that the Ramsdell siblings were each blessed with a serious case of the smarts (one of them with the smartassedness too, but I digress). It was lovely to "meet" your brother. I wonder if he has a great sense of humor like you? In other words, would he find me funny too?
June 10th - slow and steady wins the race - that's my motto. It may be September before I get through all the Brush up you Shakespeare posts, but by golly, I'll get through them and have a good time doing so. Well done you, the posts are a good mix of education and entertainment.
Jul. 17th, 2009 07:44 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you enjoyed it. Keith is a bit of a smartass - however did you know? *snort*

I suspect he'd think you were funny, but not nearly as funny as I find you. Since he thinks I'm kind of funny, but not nearly as funny as you find me. Savvy?
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

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