Once More unto the Breach

Act 3 Scene 1 – Key Scene

In this famous speech, King Henry urges his troops to enter the ‘breach’ they have made in Harfleur’s wall and take control of the town by force.

Take a look at an extract from this scene and watch it in performance here. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look
    Take a look at the scene. Who has the most lines? Are they using prose or verse? During rehearsals, actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some definitions (in green), questions (in red) and paraphrased some sections (in blue) to help with this. You can click on the text that is highlighted for extra guidance.
    Henry V
    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, conjure up the blood,
    Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage,
    Then lend the eye a terrible aspect:
    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 called fathers did beget you.
    Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
    And teach them how to war.
    And you, good yeomen,
    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!’

    A hole in a defensive wall.

    Strong tendons or ligaments in the body.

    Terrifying look or appearance.

    You are descended from fathers who have already been tested in battle, fathers who, like so many Alexander the Greats, have fought in this country from morning until night, only putting down their swords when there was no one left to fight.

    Create or make.

    Be an example to men of common birth and show them how to fight in a war.

    Good farmers, born in England, show us the bravery of your upbringing.

    Why does Henry feel he needs to make this speech?


    I see you standing like greyhounds on a leash, straining for the moment when you’ll be let loose. The hunt is on!

    What might happen if this speech doesn't work?

    What effect does this speech have on the troops?

    (Text edited for rehearsals by Gregory Doran)
  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud. Are there any words or lines that really stand out?
  • Watch
    Take a look at the actor performing this speech. How do the characters come across in this version?
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past versions of Henry V at the RSC. Which sets and staging choices for this scene feel right to you?