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 honor.
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 honor
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 honor
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.
(Act 4, scene 3, lines 23–42)

This quotation comes 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 the English 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 this conceit of winning as much honor as possible in the battle to come.

Perhaps obviously, this conceit reverses the normal conventions of battle, where most leaders would wish for as large an army as possible to ensure victory. Henry also breaks with convention in his invitation for anyone who doesn’t truly wish to fight to leave. In most military conflicts, soldiers are compelled to fight, and deserters are killed. But Henry 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. Overall, then, this speech is an example of Henry using his rhetorical skill to achieve the effect he needs. He doesn’t really desire a small and outnumbered army, but that’s all he has. It is thus more effective to convince his soldiers that they are in the best—rather than the worst—position possible. 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.