Read Shakespeare’s ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends’ speech from Henry V below, along with a modern English translation:

Spoken by Henry, Act 3 Scene 1

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

Modern Translation of ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends’

Once more into the breach dear friends. Once more, or block the wall up with our English dead. In peacetime there’s nothing that so becomes a man as mildness and humility. But when the noise of war resounds in our ears then be like tigers: stiffen the muscles, stir the blood, disguise your good side with a display of grim-faced rage. Next, give your eyes a terrifying look – let them protrude from the portholes of the head like brass cannons. Let your brows stick out over them with all the fearfulness of a sea-tormented cliff that overhangs its crumbling base, eroded by the wild destructive ocean. Now grit your teeth and flare your nostrils; take a deep breath and strain every sinew to its limit.

On, on, you most noble English, sprung from fathers proved in war; fathers who, like so many Alexanders, have fought from dawn till dusk in these parts and sheathed their swords only when there was no-one left to oppose. Don’t dishonour your mothers: prove now that those you call your fathers did indeed beget you. Be examples, now, to men of less courage, and show them how to fight a war. And you, good yeomen, whose limbs were made in England, show us here what rural men are made of; let us see that you are worthy of your pedigree, which I have no doubt about, for there is not one of you so low born and humble that you don’t have a noble lustre in your eyes. I see you standing like greyhounds in the slips, straining for the start. The game’s on, follow your instinct and, as you charge, shout “God for Harry, England, and Saint George!”.

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Watch Laurence Olivier deliver the ‘Once more unto the breach’ monologue

Henry V prepares to deliver his

Henry V prepares to deliver his “once more unto the breach” speech, as played by Tom Hiddleston in the BBC’s Shakespeare adaptation The Hollow Crown

6 replies
    • John
      John says:

      I think this speech is what you might call ‘rallying the troops’ – a motivational speech before they all went off into battle, Henry included!


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