If we are marked to die, we are enough
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,
. . .
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 presently 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 quotation is from Henry’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, the rallying oratory he delivers to the English army just before the Battle of Agincourt. Presumably, the power of this speech assists his soldiers in routing a French force that outnumbers them five to one. Henry’s opening lines, in which he explains why he does not wish for more men to fight with him, indicate his ability to give abstract moral concepts such as honor a tangibility and urgency that motivate his men far more powerfully than the repetition of platitudes about the glory of war would. Henry portrays the amount of honor to be won in the battle as a fixed amount that will be divided equally among all the victors; if there were more men present, then there would be less honor for each man to gain in victory. Henry’s claim to favor a small army is centered on his stated desire for himself and his men to win as much honor as possible in the battle.
Henry’s startling reversal of the normal conventions of battle make this idea effective. In most battles, the leader wishes for as large an army as possible in order to achieve an easier victory, but Henry claims to desire a small, outnumbered army to win a larger share of honor. In most battles, soldiers are compelled to fight and deserters are killed, but Henry backs up his claim to desire a small army by offering to let any man who does not desire to fight with him leave. Henry thus gives each of his soldiers the freedom to make the choice to fight with him; in doing so, he wins a measure of loyalty and devotion that he could not have commanded through force.
This speech is an example of Henry using his rhetorical skill to achieve the effect he needs—he does not really desire a small and outnumbered army, but he has a small and outnumbered army, and it is more effective to make his soldiers think that he is in the position he desires than to show them how difficult his position really is. Henry uses his ability to see things from unique perspectives to arrive at a surprising logic regarding honor and glory, then he uses his skill with words to make that logic stir his men to great deeds.