This phrase appeared in Act-III, Scene-I of Shakespeare’s play, Henry V.The scene begins in the middle of the blockade of Harfleur, as King Henry’s army has blown up some French fortifications. He encourages his army to attack the city again by uttering these famous lines, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;/ Or close the wall up with our English dead.”
The literal meaning of this phrase is let us try one more time or try again. King Henry speaks this phrase to encourage his soldiers, who are launching an attack on through a gap or breach in the walls of Harfleur. His troops disrupt the gap in the city walls and fight against the defenders. On the other hand, the king urges them to attack again and demonstrate courage. Here “breach” means gap, and by “unto” we mean “into.” In common expression, this phrase implies that one goes into the battle again, no matter it is a real battle in the battlefield, or a battle against the daily life; it is always try again.
These days, not only people use this phrase in literary works, in offices and everyday life, but also in business and politics. For instance, when a person wants to get back to work again after taking a break, he/she would say, “I think it’s once more unto the breach.” Here this means, they want to attempt to work again. We can also use this phrase to motivate and encourage the coward or hesitant. Apart from that, we see the most celebrated interpretation of this phrase in the performance of Laurence Olivier in a film, The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fifth with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France in 1944.
These are the words from, Henry V Act-III, Scene-I, Lines 1-5. King Henry motivates his troops to launch continuous assaults on the gaps of city walls by saying these words as:
KING 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. . . .
(Act-III, Scene-I, Lines 1-5)
The main idea of this phrase is courage. This speech typifies the rousing oratory of the king telling how he exploits his troops’ notions of masculinity and his own popularity among them. He urges them to rush and batter the wall again and again or else block the gap with their corpses. This phrase is very important in this speech, because without it, the spirit of the battle is lost against the king. Uttering this phrase, he becomes aggressive when he asks them to keep their muscles tight and blood stirred up in order to win the battle.
- Setting: King uses this phrase in context of warfare.
- Tone: Aggressive and motivational