Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Tennis Balls and Cannon Balls
Henry V was a king of England during the Hundred Years War. The war was interrupted by plague, but unfortunately not ended. It was between France and England over a piece of land that the English said belonged them. The French, however, didn't agree, so a war started. King Henry V was the English king who came closest to winning. He decided to find a way to get the land without any more fighting, so he told the French king that it belonged to England by right of inheritance. His great-great-grandmother had been a French princess named Isabella, so he should've inheirited the land. He also demanded the French princess for his wife. The French king, Charles VI, knew he couldn't give the land to Henry, or his daughter, either. If he gave Henry the land, he would be admitting that land belonging to a French princess should go to the princess's children. And if he gave her his daughter, Henry could claim Katherine's children should inheirit all her lands, even if her children were English. Then Henry could claim his wife had a right to all of France!
King Charles sent King Henry a letter, saying the claims were false. The Dauphin, or prince, sent Henry several tennis balls and a message telling him he was acting like a child and to play tennis.
Needless to say, King Henry wasn't thrilled. The famous playwrite, William Shakespeare, wrote a play about this story, entitled Henry V. Here is Shakespeare's version of what the king said. The king probably didn't say quite what Shakespeare said he did, but they call that artistic license (or something like that. You know he wrote Macbeth in a week?)
We are glad the Dauphin is so pleasant with us....
When we have match'd our rackets to these balls
We will in France, by God's grace, play a set
Shall strike his father's crown into the hazard....
And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his
Hath turn'd his balls to gunstones....
....And tell the Dauphin
His jest will savour but of shallow wit
When thousands more weep than did laugh at it.
(Henry V, Act I, scene ii)
For those of you who think that was hard to read and doesn't sound at all like people (human ones, anyway) talking, I'm with you, but they always wrote plays more like poetry than real life talking in his day. If you didn't understand it at all, it basically says that Henry will turn the tennis balls to cannon balls and he's saying he's going to attack France.
Well, attack France King Henry did. And nothing went right. To cut a long story short, he was loosing and France wasn't cutting him any slack. They wouldn't let him retreat and met them at a place called Agincourt. Shakespeare imagined a fabulous speech for him to give in the play. The real one probably wasn't quite like this one.
This day is called the feast of Crispin.
He that outlives this day and comes safe home
Will stand a tiptoe when this day is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispin.
He that shall see this day and live t' old age
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbors,
And say "Tomorrow is Saint Crispin."
Then he will 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 Exter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
This story shall the good man teach his son,
And Crispin Crispain shall ne'er go by
From this day to the ending of the world
But we shall in it be remembered:
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.
(Henry V, scene iii)
If you think that's hard to read, King Henry is telling his men that they are lucky to be fighting. Like I said, this isn't really what King Henry said. It's just what Shakespeare decided to write.
King Henry won the battle of Agincourt. He had far fewer men than the French, but he won anyway. Then King Henry took over a large piece of France, and the French king agreed to let Henry marry his daughter. He also said that when he died, King Henry could be the King of France. Unfortunately, he died two months before Charles VI died.