Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Truly Great Man - My Understanding of St. Crispin's Day

Shakespeare is the number one best-selling author in the world, with Agatha Christie as a close second. (Taking into account that Bible has one Author, and He not of this world). But while Shakespeare is amazing as a writer, he really wrote to be spoken. When put in the hands of a brilliant director, like Kenneth Branagh, the result is magic. I’ve seen Branagh’s adaptation of Henry V several times, and it still gives me chills. Like Fiddler on the Roof, it’s one of the few older films that stand the passage of time.

There’s one scene in particular, near the end of the movie, which, without fail, makes my heart soar. King Henry V, nicknamed “Harry”, has led the British troops into France, and the Battle of Agincourt approaches. The French outnumber them by a large margin. It’s a pretty hopeless situation.

A fellow named Westmoreland laments, rather understandably, “O that we now had here but one ten thousand of those men in England that do no work to-day!”

Harry, overhearing, says—well, watch it yourself:

See what I mean by thrilling? The music helps, of course, but Branagh, playing Harry, is pure passion. After that, I think I’d follow the man to Hell and back.

Then the inner skeptic protests. What, after all, does he do but cater to these ignorant country bumpkins’ self-righteous pride? He tells them that one day, they shall each of them “strip his sleeve and show his scars, and say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’…Then shall our names, familiar in his mouth as household words…be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.” Is this only self-centered glory-lust?
Only a real man could carry young Batman Bale across
a battlefield after hours of kicking butt

But as things often go, I soon came upon an answer to my almost forgotten query. While reading G.K. Chesterton’s wonderful biography of Charles Dickens for a research paper, I came across these words: “There is a great man who makes every man feel small. But the real great man is the man who makes every man feel great.”

I was immediately struck by the truth of the statement, and I immediately thought of King Harry and his ragtag band of Englishmen, who, after all, won the day. Harry made his men feel that they were great. Not superior, but great. Part of something important, servants of a great purpose. They were part of a “band of brothers.”
Harry’s greatness was compounded as he continued to live out Chesterton’s statement that not only do great men make others feel great, but great men do not think themselves great. Great men believe in equality, the equality of all men before God. True greatness comes only through humility. Intelligent, cocky Winston Churchill was not as great as the humble, brilliant G.K. Chesterton.

Harry, after the battle, sings “Non nobis, Domine, sed nomini tuo da gloriam. Not to us, O Lord, but to thy name give glory.”

And he was truly great.


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