Online Library of Liberty

A collection of scholarly works about individual liberty and free markets. A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.

Advanced Search

Shakespeare has King Henry IV reflect on the reasons for invading the Holy Land, namely to distract people from domestic civil war and to “march all one way” under his banner (1597)

At the very beginning of Shakespeare’s play, King Henry IV expresses frustration that his plans to invade the Holy Lands on a new crusade will have to wait once again until bloody revolt has been put down within England:

So shaken as we are, so wan with care, Find we a time for frighted peace to pant, And breathe short-winded accents of new broils To be commenc’d in stronds afar remote. No more the thirsty entrance of this soil Shall daub her lips with her own children’s blood; No more shall trenching war channel her fields, Nor bruise her flowerets with the armed hoofs Of hostile paces: those opposed eyes, Which, like the meteors of a troubled heaven, All of one nature, of one substance bred, Did lately meet in the intestine shock And furious close of civil butchery, Shall now, in mutual well-beseeming ranks, March all one way, and be no more oppos’d Against acquaintance, kindred, and allies: The edge of war, like an ill-sheathed knife, No more shall cut his master. Therefore, friends, As far as to the sepulchre of Christ,— Whose soldier now, under whose blessed cross We are impressed and engag’d to fight,— Forthwith a power of English shall we levy, Whose arms were moulded in their mother’s womb To chase these pagans in those holy fields Over whose acres walk’d those blessed feet Which fourteen hundred years ago were nail’d For our advantage on the bitter cross.

So shaken as we are, so wan with care,
Find we a time for frighted peace to pant,
And breathe short-winded accents of new broils
To be commenc’d in stronds afar remote.
No more the thirsty entrance of this soil
Shall daub her lips with her own children’s blood;
No more shall trenching war channel her fields,
Nor bruise her flowerets with the armed hoofs
Of hostile paces: those opposed eyes,
Which, like the meteors of a troubled heaven,
All of one nature, of one substance bred,
Did lately meet in the intestine shock
And furious close of civil butchery,
Shall now, in mutual well-beseeming ranks,
March all one way, and be no more oppos’d
Against acquaintance, kindred, and allies:
The edge of war, like an ill-sheathed knife,
No more shall cut his master. Therefore, friends,
As far as to the sepulchre of Christ,—
Whose soldier now, under whose blessed cross
We are impressed and engag’d to fight,—
Forthwith a power of English shall we levy,
Whose arms were moulded in their mother’s womb
To chase these pagans in those holy fields
Over whose acres walk’d those blessed feet
Which fourteen hundred years ago were nail’d
For our advantage on the bitter cross.

But this our purpose is a twelvemonth old,
And bootless ’tis to tell you we will go:
Therefore we meet not now. Then let me hear
Of you, my gentle cousin Westmoreland,
What yesternight our council did decree
In forwarding this dear expedience.

About this Quotation:

Shakespeare reminds us that it is a common ploy of rulers to distract their subjects away from domestic problems, whether civil disturbances or a financial crisis, by initiating a foreign war. People then “rally around the flag” to support “their” king, or in Shakespeare’s words “March all one way”. Poor “frighted peace” barely has time “to pant” and catch her breath before the “mutual well-beseeming ranks” are gathered for yet another adventure in the Middle East.

More Quotations