Brothers and “Gentles” in The Life of King Henry the Fifth


Maurice Hunt


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Forms of the word “brother” echo throughout Shakespeare’s The Life of King Henry the Fifth (1599) from the scenes involving the brotherhood of thieves, Pistol, Bardolph, and Nim (e.g. 2.1.10, 98; 3.2.41; 3.6.48), to the one at play’s end where King Charles VI of France and King Henry repeatedly call each other brother (e.g. 5.2.2, 10, 83, 315).1 The most memorable instance occurs during Henry’s oration delivered to his troops the day before the Battle of Agincourt. The king reminds them that they will be fighting on the day dedicated to the Feast of Saint Crispin. Crispin and Crispianus were brothers, cobblers, who were early Christian martyrs celebrated for their unshakable faith. Predicting victory, Henry says that his soldiers will be equally remembered with an everlasting fame:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today 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 abed
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. (4.3.60–67)

1 Quotations from and references to The Life of King Henry the Fifth and other Shakespeare plays are taken from texts in The Norton Shakespeare, ed. Stephen Greenblatt et al., 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 2008).

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