23 April 1564 to 23 April 1616

April 23, 2012 at 9:01 pm (literature, Rosie B)

Shakespeare’s birthday and death day so here’s a bit from Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V.  This is the speech of parlay at the siege of Harfleur.  I think it was left out of the Olivier version, which was made in World War II, and was colourful and patriotic..  Branagh’s take on Henry V was to make it far greyer, muddier and bloodier than Olivier’s, emphasising the horrors of war.

Henry V. How yet resolves the governor of the town?
This is the latest parle we will admit;
Therefore to our best mercy give yourselves;
Or like to men proud of destruction
Defy us to our worst: for, as I am a soldier,
A name that in my thoughts becomes me best,
If I begin the battery once again,
I will not leave the half-achieved Harfleur
Till in her ashes she lie buried.
The gates of mercy shall be all shut up,
And the flesh’d soldier, rough and hard of heart,
In liberty of bloody hand shall range
With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass
Your fresh-fair virgins and your flowering infants.
What is it then to me, if impious war,
Array’d in flames like to the prince of fiends,
Do, with his smirch’d complexion, all fell feats
Enlink’d to waste and desolation?
What is’t to me, when you yourselves are cause,
If your pure maidens fall into the hand
Of hot and forcing violation?
What rein can hold licentious wickedness
When down the hill he holds his fierce career?
We may as bootless spend our vain command
Upon the enraged soldiers in their spoil
As send precepts to the leviathan
To come ashore. Therefore, you men of Harfleur,
Take pity of your town and of your people,
Whiles yet my soldiers are in my command;
Whiles yet the cool and temperate wind of grace
O’erblows the filthy and contagious clouds
Of heady murder, spoil and villany.
If not, why, in a moment look to see
The blind and bloody soldier with foul hand
Defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters;
Your fathers taken by the silver beards,
And their most reverend heads dash’d to the walls,
Your naked infants spitted upon pikes,
Whiles the mad mothers with their howls confused
Do break the clouds, as did the wives of Jewry
At Herod’s bloody-hunting slaughtermen.
What say you? will you yield, and this avoid,
Or, guilty in defence, be thus destroy’d?

3 Comments

  1. Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

    Personally i am looking forward to DVD of this

  2. Innocent Abroad said,

    Well, all that stuff about the violation of maidens was too much for Branagh, as well… interesting that being born in Belfast and raised in Reading should have given him a Lincolnshire accent…

  3. Rosie said,

    The speech was cut but probably for reasons of length rather than the rape part of it, which is repeated in the shrill-shrieking daughters line.

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