King Henry The Fifth "I Would Give All My Fame For A Pot Of Ale And Safety"

William Shakespeare

"I Would Give All My Fame For A Pot Of Ale And Safety"

Context: Henry V, the "mirror of a Christian king," has led his forces into France to press the English claim to the right of the French throne. Having intercepted at Southampton the English traitors Grey, Scroop, and Cambridge, who planned to betray England, he now lays seige to Harfleur in a determined effort to convince Charles VI and the Dauphin of the superiority of the English forces. Henry is destined to succeed in this venture and to annihilate the French in an amazingly successful display of bravery and skillful tactical maneuvering at Agincourt, a battle which will bring French submission and the arranged royal wedding between Henry and the French princess, Katherine. Much of the success of the English forces can be attributed to their stalwart leader, who with "a touch of Harry in the night" moves among his men to encourage their best efforts as men of England. During the battle of Harfleur he urges them "Once more into the breach, dear friends, . . . / Or close the wall up with our English dead." Among the flurry of soldiers and the bravura of battle, a boy comments with touching irony that–despite the thrill of patriotic endeavor–he would willingly be in England, relaxing at the tavern:

On, on, on, on, on, to the breach, to the breach, to the breach!
Pray thee corporal stay, the knocks are too hot; and for mine own part, I have not a case of lives. . . .
. . .
Knocks go and come; God's vassals drop and die;
And sword and shield,
In bloody field,
Doth win immortal fame.
Would I were in an alehouse in London! I would give all my fame for a pot of ale, and safety.
And I:
If wishes would prevail with me,
My purpose should not fail with me;
But thither would I hie.