Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Game's Afoot

Another semester of Contracts is about to begin. The words of Shakespeare's King Henry, the famous battle cry at the gap in the walls of Harfleur, ring in my ears: "Once more into the breach dear friends, once more." Henry V, act 3, sc. 1, 1.1.

Begging your pardon for the pun, I offer to you students of Contract law these words to rouse your courage. The bleak midwinter surrounds us. We are weary from the battle waged last semester. Another battle lies ahead.

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!'


Alison M. Kilmartin said...

No one holds court quite like Professor Reilly. For the 1Ls who have her, it won't take long to spot her theatrical roots coming through on the stage of Contracts. Just wait until you hear about parties "aggrieved" in their "craws." It's wonderful. Who else can make a contract, boilerplate and all, seem like a work of art, a thing of beauty?

Marie T. Reilly said...

Alison, you know a little about "tone" -- the posture, voice, energy, confidence of a lawyer who knows she is right, and exactly why she must be right.

This speech from Henry V has one of my favorite passages on tone. It helped boost my courage when I was a new lawyer, facing my own gap in the wall. Stillness, a humble posture, serenity are fine in time of peace, "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 . . . ."

Shakespeare knew tone.