We Happy Few – analysis by Steve Rapson

One of the Great Motivational Speeches of All Time

From Shakespeare’s Henry V

We have all heard motivational speakers. Perhaps we have given one or two ourselves. What makes for a great motivational speech?  One that fires us up and makes us want to get up and take action?

Great speaking starts with a great idea, then great writing, and finally great delivery. William Shakespeare, being the greatest writer in the English language, knows how to write a great speech.  And the formula for what makes one great is still valid today. So we’ll analyze one of his best and see what makes us want to get up and march.

“…We Happy Few…”

King Henry V inspires his troops to fight with him at the Battle of Angincort. You don’t have to imagine Shakespeare’s King Henry standing in the mud surrounded by his downcast men. Kenneth Branaugh’s film of Henry V is available on DVD. I recommend you watch it.

This is not to suggest you become a Shakespearean actor in order to give a motivational speech. But, as you watch the film and are caught up in the story, see if you are not moved, as I was, when the speech arrives. If you wish to give a good sales talk, it helps to know the ingredients of one of the best ever written. And it is absolutely necessary, I think, that you know how it feels to be on the receiving end of such a speech, however vicarious.  First read the speech, and then we’ll dissect it.

Henry V,  William Shakespeare Act IV, Scene III — (The English Camp)

WESTMORELAND: O, that we now had here
But
one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING: What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from
England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Among the ancient Greek orators Pericles admired the greater Demosthenes saying, “When Pericles speaks, the people say. How well he speaks; but when Demosthenes speaks the people say. Let us march!” Similarly, modem sales executives want to rally their sales force to “Sell, sell, sell!”

Generals and managers have tried every method to motivate human behavior. Greed and fear are popular substitutes for respect and loyalty. They are more easily engendered. And highly effective. In war, if you desert in the face of the enemy, you’ll be shot. In business, if you avoid tough selling situations for fear of rejection, you’ll get the ultimate rejection: You’re fired!

Through the ages, though, the human spirit succumbs most completely when plied with appeals to courage, brotherhood, sacrifice, and, most tantalizing, honor. The respect and admiration of others is most desirable. Once earned, honor is displayed with a badge, a plaque, a ribbon on meeting day, an honorable scar—or an employee-of-the month parking spot.

A leader can summon these images without much of a stretch if is to defend God and country. It is a bit tougher if you are extolling the troops to move eight percent more Pampers through Piggily Wiggly this year.

In either case, says Mortimer Adler, it’s a sales talk.  The purpose of a sales talk is to motivate people into action.

All good sales talks have these common elements in more or less the same order:

1.      As in all good speech, Get right to it. Say what you are talking about immediately. In selling, it is here you would answer the unasked question, “Why should I listen to you?”

2.      Establish your Ethos: your credibility, your right to speak with authority about what you want. Humor is a good way to start. Say again what you want in personal terms.

3.      Appeal to Pathos, the emotional component of your argument.  This is the refuge of most political speech. Humor works here as well.  Say your theme again, this time in emotional terms your audience can identify with. This is where Hot Button Sales types ply their trade. The more you know about your audience, the more targeted your appeal to Pathos.

4.      Appeal to logic or Logos. Why should they do what you ask? Here you appeal to the intellect. Logos is where you give clear reasons to act. What’s in it for them? Why should they march? Why should they buy? This is where your theme is now about them and what they want, rather than the way it was when you began: about you and what you want.

5.      Ask for the order. Your call for action: Can I write you up for a 100 to be delivered next week? Or in King Henry’s case, Will you shed blood with me today?

6.    Modern sales technique tells us that once you ask that closing question, you must wait for the answer. He who speaks first loses.  However, motivational speakers may continue, often wrapping up with a final appeal to Pathos.

Throughout this structure, speech makers use rhetorical devices, as King Henry does, to hang their ideas on. Go here to see a list of what they are and how to use them:  http://www.virtualsalt.com/rhetoric.htm

So, now let’s dissect Henry V’s famous speech (via Shakespeare’s pen) to reveal those elements that make it so good.  How is it constructed? What rhetorical devices does he use, in what order? How does the speech build to a conclusion that impels us to rise up and march…?

Here’s how…

WESTMORELAND: O, that we now had here but one in ten thousand of those men in England that do no work to-day!

Outnumbered five to one by the French, the Earl wishes they had reinforcements. Westmoreland’s remark is analogous to being introduced before you speak.

KING HENRY V: What’s he that wishes so? My cousin Westmorland? No, my fair cousin: If we are mark’d to die, we are enow to do our country loss; and if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honour.

Here we have the main idea, the thrust of King Henry’s argument: If we are going to die in battle, then let’s not have our country lose any more men than are now committed. And his main point: If we live, well then, there’s all the more honor to go around for the few of us.

King Henry has been faithful to the first rule of great speech: Get right to the point. In fact, if we disregard his first words to Westmoreland, Henry says what he is about in the first sentence:

“…the fewer men, the greater share of honour.”

It is a great line, wry and darkly amusing, which satisfies another rule of great speech: Start with a laugh. If death is in the wings, then gallows humor is appropriate. Humor is a good way to establish your ethos, your credibility and likeability.

Building his ethos, King Henry continues to tell his men exactly how he values honor.

God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.

By Jove, I am not covetous for gold. Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;

It yearns me not if men my garments wear; such outward things dwell not in my desires:

But if it be a sin to covet honour, I am the most offending soul alive.

Here, King Henry has used three rhetorical devices: Repetition, contrast, and logic.

First, repetition: He says again, No more men!

Second, he gives examples using contrast. He demonstrates how he values honor by relating three things he does not value: I don’t care about money; I don’t care if you freeload meals at my house, or even if you wear my favorite suit.

Third, he uses simple logic—a conditional—in the form of an if/then statement. It forces a favorable judgment about himself in the minds of his men while appearing humble and self-effacing. It may be a sin to covet, but hardly a sin if the thing coveted is honor. He calls himself ‘an offending soul’, and allows his men to conclude he is not offensive, but honorable, and modest.

Mortimer Adler, citing Aristotle’s treatise on Rhetoric, says a great sales talk persuades in three ways: Ethos—How the audience feels about you, Pathos—How they feel about your idea, and Logos—What’s in it for them? The rationale: the benefits for taking your course of action.

First, he says, comes Ethos. This is where you establish your right to speak on a subject. Now if you are king, or the VP of Sales, or the top dog at some government agency, you may feel you can skip this step. And many do to the detriment of their cause. They skip right to why their idea is a good one without first formally establishing their credibility to speak on the topic. King Henry does not make this mistake. In fact, he expands on his commitment to the main idea, the fewer the men, the greater the honor. Even though he is King Henry V, he does not skimp on establishing his right to speak about honor in battle:

No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:

God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour.

As one man more, methinks, would share from me

For the best hope I have.  O, do not wish one more!

So, now, can there be any doubt that King Henry values honor above all else? That he has the right to speak passionately about it? That there just might be a silvery lining to being outnumbered five to one?

Honor in life, honor in death. A win-win situation. Actually, nowhere does the king say there is honor if you die, but it is reasonable to assume there will be a little bit of honor saved for those who do.

King Henry now moves on to Pathos. He wants to move the men, to make them feel as he does about honor. Pathos is the “Mom and apple pie” part of a sales talk. He puts them in the picture, but goes about it in a sneaky way.

Rather proclaim it, Westmorland, through my host,

That he which hath no stomach to this fight,

Let him depart; his passport shall be made

And crowns for convoy put into his purse:

We would not die in that man’s company

That fears his fellowship to die with us.

For the second time, the king uses contrast. He describes in detail the opposite of his true aim, which is for his men to fight against overwhelming odds. So, in direct opposition to his goal, King Henry orders the Earl to spread the word, saying, in effect:

“…If you don’t want to fight and die with us, fine, we don’t want the company of cowards such as you, either. You can go, and here’s a pass and some money for the trip!”

This is an amusing spin on the main idea. For implicit in his request that “…he which hath no stomach to this fight” should leave, is his premise ‘the fewer the men, the greater the honor’. A great speech has one idea illustrated several ways. Contrast and compare, give examples, as your high school English teacher said.

King Henry is sticking to one point: The fewer men, the greater share of honor. He has introduced no extraneous ideas, no side issues. He has one idea, and is coming at it from all sides.

He moves on what Aristotle called Logos: the appeal to the rational mind.

First, he established credibility, his Ethos, to move his men to believe:

“Yes, my King, you are a credible proponent of honor, you have the right to speak in it.”

Then he appealed to Pathos, the emotional side of his men:

“Yes, we see the value in honor—above money, food, or clothing; and what a scurvy knave is he who does not want it. For what is a man without honor?  And we see there is plenty of honor to go around for the few of us.”

But what’s in it for us if we gain this honor? Logos persuades via concrete examples, imagery, and anecdotes.  King Henry describes benefits that will accrue to those who choose honor and survive the day. He gives three examples with vivid pictures of what is in it for them. He tells them what it will be like when the objective is achieved.

There is a logic to Logos, however sketchy, that follows from Ethos and Pathos. Indeed, the logos part of a motivational sales talk works best when not bogged down with too much whereas and therefore. Best to be pithy and right to the point—show the end without too much dwelling on the means. King Henry does this brilliantly.

First, you will be proud of yourself:

This day is called the feast of Crispian:

He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,

Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,

And rouse him at the name of Crispian.

Second, while you live, others will annually acknowledge your honor. They will see and admire the evidence: your wounds and medals. (Note the repetition and theme re-statement of … he who lives.)

He that shall live this day, and see old age,

Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,

And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian:’

Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.

And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day. ‘

Third, you shall not be forgotten. When you are old, and finally die, your name will be spoken in the same breath as the king and his nobles with whom you fought. Your story will be re-told father to son. Your memory shall be immortal.

Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,

But he‘ll remember with advantages

What feats he did that day: then shall our names,

Familiar in his mouth as household words Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,

Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,

Be in their flowing cups freshly remember‘d.

This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne‘er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remember‘d;

In conclusion: Be brief. Be powerful. Use callback, paraphrase, repetition, alliteration:  the big guns of language…

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

Here King Henry has summarized his main idea in one lyric phrase. It is a masterpiece of summation brevity, yet laden with meaning and emotion. We few—the fewer men, the greater share of honor. We happy few—happy there are so few to share such bountiful honor. We band of brothers—King, lords, officers, and soldiers all equal, all to share equally in the honor, the medals and the immortality of your name spoken along with the King and nobles. Where’s my sword?!

And the call to action.

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne‘er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition:

What to do? Shed blood with the king. Be brother to the king. In so doing, rise above your station.

Finally, leave them laughing when you go. King Henry is about to end with a final appeal to pathos—the emotions—designed to garner a rueful smile. Start with humor, end with humor. With the exception of eulogies to war dead, ‘leave them laughing’ is the best technique to win the day—notwithstanding that speeches to those about to become war dead might benefit from a stiff shot of humor.

And gentlemen in England now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Let us march!

__________________________________________

Steve Rapson is the author of The Art of the SoloPerformer: A Field Guide to Stage & Podiumwww.soloperformer.com

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