When should I use this exercise?
I use this exercise as a way for students to engage with ensemble work and the text itself. It is designed to help students to understand that longer passages of text do not need to be static on stage. This exercise would follow after some work on iambic pentameter.
Step by Step Instructions:
As a class, with the guidance of the teacher, break down the ideas and changing intentions within the Henry V Speech ‘Once more unto the breach’ (Act III, Scene i).
Ask students ‘How much does it matter to Henry that he will be heard? What is at stake here?’ Reference the high number of stresses in the first line.
Work in a circle to read the speech. Students should follow the natural ladder of the text, each idea building on and topping the previous one. Enjoy building the tension and importance of what is being said.
Remind students that characters only continue speaking if they need to. Look at the ways in which Henry changes tack within the speech. Identify and mark where each new idea is introduced (ie the beats may be references if the class has worked with Stanislavski and script analysis beforehand but this is not necessary). This marking of new ideas could be done in a physical way rather than seated (eg through a change in stance for each line).
Put the sections together. How can we change tone for each one while still building intensity. Break the class into groups and assign each group a section to speak together. You could experiment with making the groups uneven or adding groups together towards the end.
Focus on creating the arc of the speech (moving from shattered and exhausted soldiers, convincing each other to get up and fight).
Get the class to begin against the back wall. Give them 30 seconds to form a tableau of exhausted soldiers who have given up. Students should then repeat this for a second tableau halfway across the room and a final tableau of all soldiers ready to fight.
Return to the back wall and put together with the text. Include vocal intensity.
Extension Option 1 –
Students can work in smaller groups to create their own version. Where else might this kind of motivational speech take place? (eg soccer game, board meeting etc).
Extension Option 2 –
Some students may wish to try performing this speech on their own.
The instructions for this exercise and accompanying dialogue can be downloaded in PDF form here.