On my last business trip, I passed some travel time listening to audio productions of Shakespeare's plays on my iPod. I’ve always thought that Henry V’s St. Crispin speech is one of the most inspiring calls to overcome adversity in all of literature. Its enthusiasm and intent has been (probably unintentionally) channeled by almost every coach of a competitive team facing their challenge of a lifetime (“Some day when you’re drinking beer in your barca-lounger, you’ll look back on this one great day…”) After hearing the adrenalin pumping speech spit out by Kenneth Branagh in his film adaptation of Henry V, I wanted to jump out of my seat and run outside, screaming with my fist in the air and looking for something insurmountable to overcome (wanted to…I'm pretty sure that I simply stayed in my seat silently and ate my popcorn). I've had
in the back of my mind that someday I would channel the St. Crispin's speech, somehow in my life (like how Woody Allen's character waited his whole life to give the Casablanca “hill of beans” speech to Diane Keaton in Play It Again, Sam).
Anyway…I was reminded of a medtech conference that I went to last year at Stanford called Emerging Entrepreneurs--which, by the way, was one of the most amazing conferences I have ever attended. It consisted of two days of experienced startup CEOs and VCs (including my former boss Rodney Perkins) telling tales of their adventures, intermixed with multimedia FrontLine-type talking head clips on giant screens. Back to my point…Brooke Byers of Kleiner Perkins was one of the opening speakers, and to kickoff the conference he showed the St. Crispins Day clip from Brannagh’s movie, stating that the clip captures the entrepreneur’s startup spirit. After seeing the clip, I wanted to jump out of my seat and run outside, screaming with my fist in the air and writing a business plan. Certainly many who lived through the excitement of a successful startup have thought that others "Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks that fought with us in <startup name here>."
Which brings me to this post, which is to simply provide a chance to pass on one of my favorite passages from Shakespeare. Shakespeare apparently wrote this speech after noticing that the Battle of Agincourt occurred on St. Crispin’s Day, a religious holiday for Saints Crispin and Crispinian. These two were the patron saints to cobblers and leather workers, a couple of brothers who apparently were too successful and as a result were tortured and beheaded by a nearby governor (think of that the next time you complain that some executive is impeding your career).
To set the scene, King Henry is about to lead his ragtag bunch of men into battle against an army of French soldiers five times their number in the year 1415. Henry’s men are depressed and fearful, to say the least, and Henry’s speech is in response to one of his commanders stating that he wished for more men to battle the French. I’ve always thought that reciting Henry’s speech should be an audition for any leader (CEO) in a company.
(Enter the KING)
WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!
KING. What's he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian.'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian'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 Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day 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-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.