January 2013

Some moments remind us that, in the end, the so-called “odds of success” often have little to do with what actually happens.

You find one of those moments in the fourth act of Shakespeare’s Henry V, a scene set in France as the lines are being drawn for the battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War. The English, vastly outnumbered (Shakespeare sets the ratio at five to one), are war-weary, demoralized, and resentful of their many countrymen who are home safe in bed. They face a powerful, well-armored, well-rested army fighting on its home soil.

By all the usual measures, in other words, they are doomed to defeat. And yet they win. Decisively!

They win because King Henry makes them see that they are, in fact, a “happy few,” privileged to share in an extraordinary opportunity to prove themselves…that they are about to taste glory in a way they will never forget…and that those who are not there will come to regret not being part of it.

Stunning, seemingly improbable victories that confound assumptions—whether in the history of nations, the fate of institutions, or the arc of individual lives—always seem to have their roots in that very sort of faith and determination.

As you’ve guessed by now, I tell you all this because I think it applies so directly to us and all we’ve been through. And every time we earn another “V for victory,” maybe we should think of Agincourt again. Sources claim that the real-life Henry V told his men the French were planning to cut off their first two fingers, so they could never be archers again. The V-sign proved that the fingers were still there…and so was the resolve to use them!

P.S. Here are the famous last four lines of King Henry V’s soliloquy, delivered on St. Crispin’s Day (October 25th), 1415.

“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.”

*Inspired by a conversation with trustee Jimmy Dunne, who wished he had been there the night of the evacuation and the next day.