Tag Archives: Henry V


The Henry V concert was over, and I met up with Montgomery Starling-Byrd on the sidewalk outside Roy Thomson Hall.

“How was it?” I said.

“Crisp,” he said.

“As in Crispin or Crispinian?” These two were the martyred twin brothers honoured on St. Crispin’s Day, October 25, which is when Henry V won the battle of Agincourt. You may be interested to know that the brothers lived in Soissons, France, less than 300 km away from Agincourt (take the highway A26), but 1130 years before the battle.

“Yes,” he said. “Aside from the martyrdom bit.”

“No martyrdom for Crispus today,” I said. “I’m not wearing a tux.” I’ll explain that one: Crispin and Crispinian are derived from Latin crispus, which means “curly”; Crispus Attucks, a man of half-African and half-Wampanoag ancestry, is generally thought of as the first person killed in the American Revolution, at the Boston Massacre. And, yes, I was wearing white tie and tails, not black tie and tuxedo.

“Indeed, proper tails are a constant.” I suspect he was making a joke on Emperor Constantine I, who had a son named Crispus. Whom he had killed.

“Just as well,” I said, “my tux is going to hell in a handbasket.” That was a pun on Helena, the mother of Constantine, and also on Helena Bonham-Carter, cousin of Crispin Bonham-Carter, who is also an actor.

“Well, let us turn back to the future for a moment,” Montgomery said. I was surprised that he had seen Back to the Future, which starred Crispin Glover as McFly. “I ought to have gone once more into the breach in the concert hall; my intermission libations are catching up on me. Is there a pay toilet around here?”

“No pay toilets in Toronto,” I said. “We prefer to hold our manhoods cheap – or free, actually.” This was a reference to a line in King Henry’s speech before the battle. “We could go across King Street to Quotes – I’ll have a pint, and you’ll have a –”

“Yes,” Montgomery said, cutting me off, “that sounds good. A snack perhaps. All I’ve had is a packet of crisps. I wonder whether they have crêpes.” Yes, crêpe is cognate with crisp too. We started walking.

“More likely just French fries,” I said. “Calamari and Guinness are what I usually get. They might have curly fries, though.”

“Indeed, the original crisps,” Montgomery said. What he meant, of course, was that, as I’ve mentioned, crisp comes from Latin crispus – yes, “curly” – and came to mean “rippled, wrinkled” in the 1300s and “brittle” only in the 1500s. Lexicographers are unsure how it came to have the “brittle” meaning but speculate that the sound of the word had some influence. “But of course,” Montgomery added, “French fries are really chips, looking like wood chips. Whereas you colonials use chips to refer to crisps.”

“I do admit,” I said, “potato chips sound more like crisps. You can hear it when you eat them: ‘crisp, crisp, crisp.'” We walked on for a few seconds, pondering onomatopoeia. “So,” I said, returning to the original topic, “Crisp – I mean, Christopher Plummer was suitably plummy for you?”

“He has a voice one can curl up with,” Montgomery said. “And the orchestra and the two choirs could make one’s hair curl. And it was all, as I said, crisp and clear.”

“Marvellous,” I said. “I’m looking forward to doing it again on Saturday. But now,” I said, veering to the steps down to Quotes, “let it be in our flowing cups freshly rememb’red.”


Montgomery Starling-Byrd, international president of the Order of Logogustation, happened to be passing through town and was pleased to have the chance to catch the Toronto Symphony Orchestra perform, among other things, William Walton’s Henry V featuring Christopher Plummer, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, and the Toronto Children’s Chorus. Today was the day before the first performance, and he was at Domus Logogustationis for conviviality with local word tasters. We had laid on some cheese and crackers and wine and so forth.

“I’ll have to be off to the dress rehearsal soon,” I said to Montgomery and to Maury, looking at my watch.

“Oh, yes,” said Montgomery, “you sing with the choir. Well, sing carefully.”

Elisa Lively was passing by. “You’re singing in something?”

“Walton’s Henry the Fifth,” I said.

“Oh,” she said, “can I see the score?”

“English two, French zero,” Maury said. I reached down to my bag, pulled out my copy of the score, and handed it to her.

She flipped through it. “There’s quite a lot of tacet here.”

“Orchestra and narrator,” I said.

She kept flipping. “Oh, the Agincourt carol, nice.” Flip, flip. At the last page, she read a line at the bottom and remarked, “The layout was done in Caerphilly.” She pronounced the place name “care-filly.”

“Say that carefully,” Montgomery said. “The stress is on the second syllable.”

“Ker-filly,” she said.

“Now, when I hear that,” Maury said, “I think of cheese.”

“I’m certain the performance will not be cheesy,” Montgomery said.

“Because of Philly cream cheese?” Elisa asked.

“No,” Maury said, “Caerphilly is a kind of hard, crumbly white cheese. Named after the town it was first made in.”

“And the town’s name,” Montgomery said, “means ‘Ffili’s fort’.”

“Where is that, anyway?” Elisa asked.

“It’s a suburb of Cardiff,” Montgomery said, “down in south Wales. It is known for Caerphilly Castle, an excellent, almost archetypal example of the medieval castle. Thirteenth century, built for military purposes.” (The interested reader can see good pictures and description at www.castlewales.com/caerphil.html.)

“I daresay the English would have had a harder time attacking that than they did attacking Harfleur,” I remarked, referring to the first battle in Shakespeare’s Henry V, on which Walton’s piece is based. “They’d look at it and go once more into their breeches.”

Montgomery raised one eyebrow slightly at my off-colour pun on a Shakespearean quote. Then he said, “They would certainly have to do it carefully. But in fact, although it was built by English to intimidate the Welsh – at which it succeeded – the English did attack it too. Well, one set of English did it against another: the castle’s last real battle was when Queen Isabella besieged it in the early 1300s as an attack on her husband, Edward the Second, and his favourite, Hugh le Despenser.”

“It would have been either ironic or fitting,” Maury said, “for Henry to attack it, for though he was an English king, he was, as he declares in Shakespeare’s play, a Welshman.”

“Well,” I said, looking at my watch again, “today is St. Crispin‘s Day.” (That’s the day of the battle of Agincourt.)

“Tomorrow, rather,” Montgomery said.

“October 25, in reality,” Maury said.

“Well, today is ‘have some crispies day,'” Elisa said, and handed Montgomery a crispy cracker with a large dollop of cream cheese on it. “Be careful – that’s Philly.”

“You seem to have it in ample quantities,” Montgomery said.

“Oh, yes,” Elisa said. “We have a huge dispenser.” She snort-guffawed at her pun.

I made a small salute as I sidled towards the door. “Hold down the fort,” I said.

“And hold up the forte,” Montgomery said. “I’ll see you on the morrow.” And with that I left.