“We few, We happy few:” Motivational Speech in Henry V
Paul Henderson teaches at Western Reserve High School in Berlin Center, Ohio. He teaches regular and college preparatory English to grades 10 and 12, coaches football, and is currently developing a school-wide Shakespeare troupe.
Henry V, 4.3.21-69
What’s On for Today and Why
Students will examine King Henry's "Saint Crispin's Day" speech as a piece of motivational literature. This examination will not only provide insight into the character of Henry; it will also provide students with the opportunity to discover what is involved in writing and delivering a motivational speech.
This lesson will take one to three class periods.
What To Do
1. Select a student or two to read the speech aloud.
2. Lead a classroom discussion on the elements of inspirational or motivational speech. Write the following rhetorical devices on the board and have the students identify words or phrases from the speech which fall into these categories:
a. figurative language
b. words that express or draw upon an emotion
c. words that draw upon one or more of the senses
3. Discuss ways to present a motivational speech from a public speaking point of view. Write the following techniques on the board and discuss where in the text of the speech students might choose to include or emphasize these elements in an effective oral presentation:
a. vocal inflection
b. physical relationship to other characters
c. eye contact
4. Play Kenneth Branagh's 1989 film of Henry V cued to the speech. Discuss what the students notice about Branagh's interpretation in light of previous class discussions on content, rhetorical devices, and manner of presenting a motivational speeh.
5. Have the students write their own motivational speeches attempting to inspire a group of their peers to do something (for example, raise money for a charity, play harder in a football game, etc.) incorporating the elements of content and presentation discussed in class. Have each student present his or her speech to the class.
Have students compare the "Saint Crispin's Day" speech to other inspirational speeches. An excellent and readily available example is Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. It might also be fun to do a comparison of Branagh's speech in his film of Henry V with Bill Pullman's speech as President Thomas Whitmore in the 1996 film Independence Day. Both speeches are attempts to rally the troops against a seemingly insurmountable enemy (the French in Henry V, aliens in Independence Day), and it is a wonderful opportunity for students to discover how much this moment in Independence Day owes to Shakespeare.
What You Need
Folger edition of Henry V
DVD or video of Henry V, dir. Kenneth Branagh, Samuel Goldwyn, 1989
DVD or video of Independence Day, dir. Roland Emmerich, Twentieth Century Fox, 1996
How Did It Go?
Assess both the written and oral speeches based on content, use of rhetorical devices, and effective oral presentation discussed in class.
John Byam Lister Shaw. God for Harry. Pen and ink drawing, ca. 1900. Folger Shakespeare Library.