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I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. My translation of Hildegard's Book of Divine Works is available from Catholic University of America Press here. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

This day is call’d the feast of Crispian

Image from WikiCommons.

Today is indeed (or at least was, in the old calendar)[1] the feast of Saints Crispin and Crispinian.  According to legend, they were on this day in A.D. 286 or 287 martyred under Diocletian and his co-emperor, Maximianus near Soissons in modern-day France.  But this day in the English-speaking world shall always “be in our flowing cups freshly remember’d,” for on Crispin Crispinian in 1415, King Henry V defeated the French at Agincourt and ushered in a brief renewal of his crown’s hold upon France.

Considered one of the greatest speeches ever writ to rouse the troops before battle, Shakespeare’s version of Henry’s words is ofter known by the title of “St. Crispin’s Day Speech” as by a lesser appellation for the battle of Agincourt.  “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention, / A kingdom for a stage, princes to act / And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”  And though this scaffold may be unworthy to bring forth so great an object, let your minds be carried to the vasty fields of France, and listen as King Harry bids you join his band of brothers:

KING HENRY V, Act IV, Scene iii:
What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin:
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the 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 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.

[1] This is, of course, one of the biggest problems with the "new" calendar, from which the Feast of Ss. Crispin and Crispinian has been purged..  Most dates of any historical note throughout the Middle Ages and early modern era were recorded with reference to the feasts and fasts of the Church calendar.  Imagine how impoverished our understanding of Henry's speech will be one day when sadly October 25 is no more remembered as Saint Crispin's day. 

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