Your RDA of Irony

Historical and Rhetorical Revisions

Last year, on the anniversary of Agincourt, the New York Times decided to disillusion us.  According to the newspaper, a  number of modern historians are disputing the hallowed account of the battle.  In the traditional account of Agincourt, a dog-weary English army–outnumbered five-to-one–triumphed over the haughty French host.  However, the revisionist historians have researched Michelin receipts and so deduced that the French force was no more than twice the size of the English.  So the English victory hardly counts.

Of course, you would expect French historians to downplay the dimensions of the French humiliation.  They might deny the battle ever occurred or somehow blame the Americans.  However, many of these revisionists are British!  Are they traitors?  Yes, but they also might be right.  Besides, historians are a desperate lot.  First, they have to come up with a fresh topic for their doctorate–“Flax production in 14th century Kent”–and then they have to keeping churning out NEW research if they hope to get and keep a decent niche at an university.  “Flax production in 15th century Kent–the sequel” is not a guaranteed claim to fame or tenure.  But come up with an iconclastic view of a cherished event–and you can make the New York Times and at least get a free lunch from The History Channel.

Now I will concede that Henry V could not have made that glorious St. Crispin’s Day speech.  First, it would have been in Middle English–which no one ever understood.  Furthermore, the speech–in that form–would never have survived the departmental approval procedure.  Before delivering the St. Crispin’s speech, Henry–or his speechwriter–was required to submit a draft to the legal department and human resources.

In 1415, that editorial inquisition was in the hands of Lord Chancellor Beaufort and the King’s brother, the Duke of Bedford.

Beaufort:  “We few, we happy few…”  Too many pronouns, too many adjectives.  “We” is too vague a term, too easy to misintepret.  A positive and specific identification is necessary, if only to avoid trademark disputes in future treaties. “Few” has a negative context, as if the English army were conceding an inadequate number for this campaign.  If Henry survives the battle, he would never survive the litigation.  Come up with a more positive description of our army’s size.

Bedford:  And “Happy”?  Really, that is unprofessional and inappropriate to a war.  If we must have an adjective, let’s make it a serious one.   And “band of brothers?”  I am the king’s brother and I have no idea what that means.  Is he promising everyone can be a duke like me?

Beaufort:  Carried away by alliteration, completely irresponsible.   There has to be a concise and practical definition of the relationship between the king and his soldiers.

Bedford:  “For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother …”

Is he criticizing our healthcare policy?  We certainly do cover wounds–at least battle-related ones–and the men will receive appropriate bandages rather than this unsolicited affection.  You know, that could actually be viewed as a form of harassment….

So, on October 25, 1415,  Henry V assured his beleaguered men:

“This adequately numbered English army, this proactive English army

This armed association

For anyone who, in this specific time period, should acquire a work-related decoagulating condition

Would be entitled to appropriate coverage from this association.”

And if Henry said anything more, no one was listening.

  1. Mike says:

    ‘Four score’…? comment: Shouldn’t that be ‘Eighty’? Afraid the audience won’t follow…

    • Eugene Finerman says:


      I doubt that today’s corporation would be so specific with a number or a date. The company would not want to establish a standard for accuracy, and then be bound by it.


  2. Cindy Starks says:

    Eugene — Once again you are too funny. But please don’t disillusion me on the Agincourt speech — I love it so much. In the movies made of it, who do you like best re: delivery. I’ve seen Kenneth Branaugh and thought he was great. Who else has given this speech on film?

    Keep up the good, but drunken, work. :>) C

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Dear Cindy,

      Of course, you are too young to have seen Olivier’s “Henry V”; apparently, it never has been shown on Nickelodeon.

      Olivier’s film was brilliant, especially in its use of settings. It opens at the Globe Theater where you can sense how the performance in Elizabethan times. Then, as the story progresses, the sets take on the appearance of illuminated manuscripts; the backgrounds have the slightly skewed perspective of medieval art. Olivier’s flight was made in 1944-45, and really was a tribute to Britain’s forces who had once again triumphed against daunting odds. In making the film, most of the younger actors–including Olivier–had to be transferred from their units. But Prime Minister Churchill considered the film a priority.

      The Branagh film does not have such a pure view of the history. The war is sordid, with base political motivations. Agincourt is fought in the rain, not the glorious sunshine of Olivier’s film. Branagh is addressing the audience after the Falkland War. Yes, it was an impressive victory, but was the war even necessary.

      Both films are excellent, and quite different.


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