Monday, 11 March 2013

Megalomania and Death

We are working on that all-encompassing project in class: designing a world of our own, inhabited by tribes of students, each led by chieftains of my choosing. The students will eventually come to write origin myths about their land, make their own armour and weaponry, perhaps create their own haka, and perform a speech to rally the hearts of the tribe before battle. 

Today we went over Henry V's speech before the St. Crispin's Day Battle with the French. I told them all about the Elizabethan Great Chain of Being, and knowing that the rigid order of the social classes was fixed and immovable, Henry V's plea to his troops then becomes something entirely different.

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-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.

The power of his words is astounding! The king himself says that any man who takes up arms and fights with him will not only be his "brother," but the battle will "gentle his condition," -- a radical statement about overturning order and somehow altering his lowly place in society. A generous offer, indeed. I showed them the movie clip featuring the Almighty Branagh, at whose altar we must worship, and then we compared Shakespeare to King Theoden's speech before the battle at Pelennor Fields. 

Forth! and fear no darkness!
Arise! Arise, Riders of Théoden!
Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered!
A sword day, a red day, and the sun rises!
Ride now. Ride now! Ride!
Ride for ruin and the world's ending! Death! Death!

Before you laugh at the vast abyss that yawns between the two speeches, note that I do recognize the differences between them, and I can only say they serve two very divergent purposes, which is the reason I feel I can comfortably compare them. Bailey, ever helpful, thought the speech was too loud, and the majority of the class was unimpressed: they would not ride out into battle with King Theoden. No, no, I protested. You have missed the point entirely. Here, let me show you.

And then I read the speech as if I was rallying them myself, as if we few, we happy few were the last hope against a darker fate, as if all the world depended on us driving back the evil tide, shattering our arms against that cold, impassive curtain. The lolling heads snapped up immediately, suitably dazzled by my oratorical presence. "Death!" I cried.
"Death!" they echoed, fists raised.

I'm not entirely sure teaching does anything good for my inherent megalomania.  


Louise said...

Incidentally, our quote for today at work (last day on the project before a handover deadline!) is "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more."

Jen said...

Oh, you make me miss the two years I spent doing nothing but literary analysis! Asking WHY this is more compelling than THAT, and then proving my point... Such fun. And such a long, long time ago, for me.

<3 jen @ librarian tells all