What: The St. Crispin’s Day speech by the title character in Shakespeare’s Henry V, here played by Kenneth Branagh:

Why: In the Catholic calendar, scarcely a day passes without a commemoration of a saint. This works against the memory of these saints, condemning most to obscurity. Today is St. Crispin’s Day, a day named after Crispin and Crispinian, two likely fictional saints of cobblers. On its own, this would hardly merit a note on the calendar. But we remember St. Crispin’s Day not for anything these two quasi-real people did, but because of what another quasi-real person said. Shakespeare’s personification of Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt roused his troops with the most stirring rallying cry known to man. If you were there, you would not want to abandon your happy few, your band of brothers. You would not hold your manhood cheap. You would shed your blood with Prince Hal. You would.

Impact: Imagine with me that the speech was real. Here’s what it inspired: Some 6,000 ragtag Englishmen faced 50,000 Frenchmen deep in French territory. (There aren’t any records, so I’m picking the most lopsided estimates; remember, we’re imagining.) The French had far better weapons, armor, provisions, and steeds. The latter advantage was particularly frightful, with 5,000 noble cavalry facing the Brits. All the English had was arrows. Henry arrayed his 5,000 longbowmen not in front of the men-at-arms to protect them as usual, but in back of a line of palings. They waited for a faster and superior force to come bearing down on them from higher ground. But this time the English picked the best ground, the base of a steep hill flanked by encroaching woodland in a torrential downpour. The horses, plodding and stumbling down the muddy hill, were decimated by fusillade after fusillade, till the French men-at-arms had to cross the killing ground on foot. Weighed down by 60-pound armor and vision-restricting helms, they didn’t make it. The unarmored English line held against the remaining French force, bringing down hatchet and spear against exhausted armored foes. Henry’s forces slaughtered all prisoners, and the rearguard, lacking the noble leadership, fled for the forest. The English lost at most a thousand men, the French as many as ten thousand. All, in this quasi-real world, due to an invocation of brotherhood.

Personal Connection: I played three great Shakespearean monologues in high school. One was the St. Crispin’s Day speech, and I doubt that I could have inspired a debate club win with that, let alone an army. I was perhaps more realistic doing Macbeth’s “out, out brief candle” speech, but then again I could have been an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I think I hit my stride with Malvolio’s yellow-cross garters scene, beginning my great run of public buffoonery.

Other Contenders: Frederick Douglass condemns Independence Day in a nation of unconstant independence, and a century later, Martin Luther King Jr. dreams out loud; Mario Salvo throws his body upon the gears at UC Berkeley; Strother Martin fails to communicate with Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke; Baz Luhrmann remixes Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich’s fictional commencement address and advises all the world’s students to wear sunscreen; President Ronald Reagan waves goodbye to the Challenger astronauts; coach Jimmy Valvano has a heck of a day; Denis Leary shares his vision of the future in Demolition Man.