Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 2

Then imitate the action of the tiger.
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage.
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect,
. . .
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath, and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English,
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof,
Fathers that like so many Alexanders
Have in these parts from morn till even fought,
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument.
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you called fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeomen,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture. . . .

This passage is from Henry’s famous “Once more unto the breach, dear friends” speech, which ends with the battle cry, “God for Harry! England, and St. George!” Rallying his men to charge once more into the fray at the Battle of Harfleur (the “breach” refers to the hole in the town wall created by the bombardment of Henry’s cannons), Henry employs two separate strategies for psychological motivation, each of which uses its own language and rhetoric. First, Henry attempts to tap into a primal instinct toward violence within his men, hoping to rouse them into a killing frenzy. To this end, he compares the expressions he desires his men to wear to the features of an angry tiger. He describes in great detail the savage features of tigers, urging his men toward a mindless fury represented by snarling teeth and flared nostrils. The vivid imagery of Henry’s speech indicates his own experience with the savage passion of battle, as he commands his men to “[b]e copy now to men of grosser blood”—that is, to act as barbarians.

At the same time, however, Henry employs a second strategy whereby he inspires his men with a nationalistic patriotism, urging them to do honor to their country and prove that they are worthy of being called English. This sense of a shared national creed is somewhat more sophisticated than the urging to primal violence, and Henry turns away from the blunt physical description in the early part of his speech to a more complex rhetoric that combines historical reference (“so many Alexanders”), a sentimental appeal to family pride (“[d]ishonour not your mothers”), and reminders of birthplace (“you, good yeomen, / Whose limbs were made in England”). At the end of his speech, Henry attaches St. George, the patron saint of England, to his legendary battle cry, providing his men with a treasured and familiar symbol of the patriotic ideals he espouses in his rally cry.