Film My first viewing of Olivier's Henry V, or rather the opening section of Henry V to be more accurate was during those English film viewing sessions I've mentioned before. The teacher utilised the stunning scenes set in the recreation of an Elizabethan theatre to give us a flavour of what it must have been like to see the in original production (as the director himself intended), this being many years before the opening of the recreation of the Globe on the South Bank.
A few years later, one of the school assemblies was dedicated to a public speaking competition which that year involved a select group of students reading Once More Unto The Breach from memory. Somehow, through no fault of my own, I was roped in as an alternate in case one of the main participants decided they were going to be ill that day. There were two problems with this (1) there would have to be some acting involved and (2) I have absolutely no ability to remember poetry.
Oddly, I wasn't that afraid of getting up front of the school despite having spent most of my school career being bullied and this being just the sort thing which would give those shits a vast amount of material. Being a closet extrovert, in primary school I'd also been chosen to appear in plays during assemblies and although I don't remember being any good, I do remember getting into trouble improvising around a script for an adaptation of Pandora's Box and embarrassed the girl who was playing my wife, "My love". She didn't like that much. We were ten.
Plus on reaching sixth form, one my prefect duties was to provide the bible reading during assemblies, something I'd end up doing for days on end, partly because there wasn't anyone else foolish enough to do it, but also because it meant I didn't have to sit with the aforementioned bullies during the hymn singing and prayers. The last thing you want to do with people you actively hate is worship a deity with them.
Sidebar: I was no more religious then than I am now. I dabbled in my first year of secondary school, attending bible study and the like but was never really convinced. But there was nevertheless something quite thrilling about standing up in front of fellows, sounding out "Today's reading is taken from such and such a gospel" (it was always such and such a gospel) "chapter five, verse three to twenty-seven" and then heading off into the Good News Bible.
Assemblies including this competition took place in the main school hall, a giant box of a room with a balcony, a main stage which included an organ and a lot of dust. When you gave a reading in there, from a lectern at the side of the stage, you really felt like you could command the audience. Pity that the rest of the time you had to sit on that stage in full view of everyone waiting for it to end.
So I was fine with the standing up in front of people bit and the reading flowery language bit, but could I remember that damn speech? Here's what I remember now. I'm free-typing this so apologies if the metre isn't correct:
Once more unto the breach dear friends, once
Or build the wall up with our English dead
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man as
Modest stillness and humility.
But when the blasts of war blow in our ears
And imitate the actions of a tiger.
Stiffen the sinew, conjure up the blood.
Disguise fair nature with heart favoured rage
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect.
Let is pry through portage of the head like a brass canon.
On, on, you noblest English, who's dah dah dee dum
Something, something past change.
And yeah, that's where it all enters a mist as potent as that which hovers over the Agincourt battlefield in most post conflict renderings. Here's the full version. As you can see I shortened and garbled it with all lackluster charm of the goons who helped the printing bootleggers to turn out the pirated copy of Hamlet we now call the Bad Quarto.
Anyway, I hatched the expected plan of having a copy of the speech to hand should I end up being called upon, entirely happy to read the thing instead since there was no practical reason why I should win the thing anyway and if anyone did decide to say anything afterwards I'd could at least ban them from the Computer Club, of which I was the senior prefect (not really) (I had no power).
The morning arrives and luckily all of the other participants were in attendance. Which isn't to say I wasn't still made to sit with them on the front row even though there was no possibility I was going to be called upon to actually speak. Presumably it was in case one of the others fell off the stage (this was a posh school) or were taken ill on the short walk up the stairs.
I barely remember the actual competition. Now that I type this, I seem to recalling having a duel role as prompt and so followed the speech through each time rather than looked at the stage. Out the corner of my eye I did see a lot of gesticulation, arms being waved aloft the air. I think one of my classmates even had a prop sword.
I don't remember who won. I expect it wasn't Shakespeare.