When it comes down to it, Henry V is the ultimate (maybe even the original) underdog war story. Think about it. Moments before the historic Battle of Agincourt begins, Henry’s ragtag troops are exhausted, sickly, hungry, terrified of being killed, and they know that they are seriously outnumbered. Not only that, but they’re completely surrounded by the French army. In other words, the English soldiers don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this battle and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll make it home to their families.
Then King Henry V steps up and delivers one of the most impassioned (and famous) “let’s get pumped up for battle” speeches of all time and convinces his troops to stay and fight alongside him like a “band of brothers” who will share the glory when all is said and done instead of running away with their tails between their legs, Henry’s troops are inspired to stay and fight and, then, against all odds, they actually win the battle.
Written around 1599, Henry V portrays events immediately before and after Henry’s miraculous victory at the Battle of Agincourt (1415), a major turning point in the Hundred Year’s War. Though set in the early 1400s, for hundreds of years audiences have found this piece of historical fiction not just relevant but eerily contemporary. Even when the play was first performed in 1599, the portrayal of Henry V’s military campaign reminded Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audiences of their own unstable political situation.
Over the years, Henry’s motivational St. Crispin’s Day speech to his troops (“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”), written by Shakespeare, has become one of the most famous speeches of all time. During World War II, Laurence Olivier’s dramatic reading of it was broadcast over the radio and, according to scholar Marjorie Garber, it soon “became a patriotic call to arms for embattled Britain” (Shakespeare After All!). It’s not just the St. Crispin’s Day speech that audiences remember this extraordinarily insightful tale. Shakespeare’s play continues to give rise to endless debates about the parallels between Henry V’s military campaign and modern warfare.
So if you were captivated with movies like 300, Braveheart and Saving Private Ryan, you’re going to love Henry V at the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, October 22 through November 16, 2014! See this one for the Gipper!