A little touch of Harry in the night

Sorry, no X-rated photos here of our lovely Prince Harry!! Instead a quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V.

The BBC recently produced a beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, version of this play as part of their Hollow Crown series. Unlike the old ‘televised play’ versions or the modern setting/Shakespearean language treatments, the Hollow Crown managed to combine  faithfulness to his written word  and historical accuracy with powerfully delivered scenes. Such scenes did not require you understand every one of Shakespeare’s carefully chosen and very poetic stanzas. From the voices, accents, actions and scenery you can really feel Shakespeare’s meaning bursting through. All of sudden certain lines or verses capture your imagination and stick with you.

Having been struggling to get my battle scenes just right, I don’t know why I didn’t think of accessing Shakespeare earlier. He is the master of summing up in very few words so much of the emotion of war – and really, however much detail you want to add of the mechanics of war, it is the emotions you want to engage in the reader.

I’ve included an extract below, of one the passage, as I heard them delivered by John Hurt in the Hollow Crown version, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up on end.

 

Now entertain conjecture of a time

When creeping murmur and the poring dark

Fills the wide vessel of the universe.

From camp to camp through the foul womb of night

The hum of either army stilly sounds,

That the fixed sentinels almost receive

The secret whispers of each other’s watch:

Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames

Each battle sees the other’s umber’d face;

Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs

Piercing the night’s dull ear, and from the tents

The armourers, accomplishing the knights,

With busy hammers closing rivets up,

Give dreadful note of preparation:

The country cocks do crow, the clocks do toll,

And the third hour of drowsy morning name.

Proud of their numbers and secure in soul,

The confident and over-lusty French

Do the low-rated English play at dice;

And chide the cripple tardy-gaited night

Who, like a foul and ugly witch, doth limp

So tediously away. The poor condemned English,

Like sacrifices, by their watchful fires

Sit patiently and inly ruminate

The morning’s danger, and their gesture sad

Investing lank-lean; cheeks and war-worn coats

Presenteth them unto the gazing moon

So many horrid ghosts. O now, who will behold

The royal captain of this ruin’d band

Walking from watch to watch, from tent to tent,

Let him cry ‘Praise and glory on his head!’

For forth he goes and visits all his host.

Bids them good morrow with a modest smile

And calls them brothers, friends and countrymen.

Upon his royal face there is no note

How dread an army hath enrounded him;

Nor doth he dedicate one jot of colour

Unto the weary and all-watched night,

But freshly looks and over-bears attaint

With cheerful semblance and sweet majesty;

That every wretch, pining and pale before,

Beholding him, plucks comfort from his looks:

A largess universal like the sun

His liberal eye doth give to every one,

Thawing cold fear, that mean and gentle all,

Behold, as may unworthiness define,

A little touch of Harry in the night.

And so our scene must to the battle fly;

Where–O for pity!–we shall much disgrace

With four or five most vile and ragged foils,

Right ill-disposed in brawl ridiculous,

The name of Agincourt. Yet sit and see,

Minding true things by what their mockeries be.

Oh and in case you’re wondering, yes Henry V was a Plantagenet.

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