“While my mother was drawn to the love poetry, my father preferred the history plays. One of his favorite phrases was Henry V’s St. Crispin’s Day speech. It describes the honor of having risked one’s life for one’s country at a moment when it truly mattered. When my mother planned an evening of Elizabethan poetry and music at the White house, as a surprise for my father, she ended that evening’s program with the speech from Henry V.”
While we have no evidence that Lincoln’s First Lady had the St.Crispin’s Day speech performed, Lincoln was well acquainted with the words of Shakespeare. Shakespeare brought Lincoln special pleasure and he would regularly carry a copy of Shakespeare’s works with him when traveling. After the death of his son, Willie, Lincoln “wept convulsively after reciting the lament of Constance for her dead son”[i] from Shakespeare’s King John:
“And, Father Cardinal, I have heard you say/that we shall see and know our friends in heaven./If that be true, I shall see my boy again.”
After using the Gilder Lehrman technique, “Teaching Literacy Through History,” the students will disaggregate phrases from St. Crispen’s Speech and categorize them into the following four categories from the Gettysburg Address:
- “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”
- “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.”
- “–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”
- “–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
Then the student will choose his or her favorite phrase from Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day speech and express how it gives new meaning to one of Lincoln’s immortal phrases from the Gettysburg Address.
[i] Burlingame, Michael. “Abraham Lincoln.” The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. iBooks.
This lesson is an extension to a lesson on the Gettysburg Address. The use of this lesson presumes that the students have already studied the Gettysburg Address.