- Origin of quotation
- The heart of coward under many threats
- The mental outlook of a coward
- A brave man’s attitude
In Shakespeare’s play, Julis Caesar occurs the line, which is in the subject of this essay. The line is part of the speech of Caesar reply to Calpurnia’s warning that he should not move out of doors as evil omens and declares that death has no terrors for him. He is not coward and so he ignores the dangers that threaten him. The word “fear”, he says, does not exist in his vocabulary. He throws a challenge at death and refuses to be frightened by it. He could never have been a great soldier if he had stood in fear of death. Caesar rightly says that the brave people taste death only once.
Caesar’s attitude to death is, indeed, the right one. Death is a necessary and unavoidable end to life. Nobody has over conquered death. Death comes to all-kings and beggars, rich and poor, princes in their castles and humble folk in their huts. Death lays supreme power of death; it is the height of folly for a man to tremble with fear at the thought of it. It shows an utter lack of spirit to turn pale at the mention of death. It is extreme cowardice to shrink from the dangers of life and mark of bravery to face them.
A coward lives in constant dread. His heart sinks at the thought of death, which is like a Sword of Damocles hanging over his head. The outbreak of war, a riot, the tremors of an earthquake, the possibility of a famine or a flood – all these make the coward shudder with fear. He imagines that he will be the first casualty in any of these situations. He eyes his food with suspicion because there might be poison in it. If he stands on the seashore or a riverbank, a wave of fear sweeps over him at the idea of being accidentally drowned. As he walks along a road, he is over-careful not to step down the pavement lest he should be run over by a motor vehicle. He knows that death may come to a man suddenly and in a variety of ways and therefore his life is spent in a state of continuous fear. Every time he hears that someone else has died, secretly congratulates himself on his own escape.
Such is the mental outlook of a coward. Surely he suffers a thousand times more pain and agony at his supposed death than he would by the event itself. He meets his death many times in his imagination and endures all the horror connected with it. He even goes on to imagine the sufferings that are in store for him beyond the grave. He tries to foresee all the terrors of Hell. He is filled with self-pity at being the supposed victim of all the torments of Hell. Long before death actually overtakes him, he has already suffered its pangs many times over.
A brave man, on the contrary, maintains an attitude of defiance towards death. He realises the fact that death must come sooner or later. He understands that it is of no use lamenting this fact. For death is an essential part of the scheme of things; this body made of dust, this flesh must some day become cold, insensitive and lifeless. It is, therefore, vain to pity oneself at the thought of death. Besides, with courage and resolution, one may well escape death many times. Instead of imagining himself as the first casualty in a riot, brave man sets his mind on the practical achievement of peace. In any event, he is confident that can do him no harm. At the most death can kill his body, that his spirit will always remain alive; thus in the long run death itself will die. In this spirit of resolution, a brave man experiences the pain of death only when it actually overtakes him, and even then he makes light of the pain.
So this famous line from Shakespeare contains a profound lesson. Death is not a frightful monster; it is only a natural and necessary end of life. It is true that premature death is often tragic. It is the thought of dying before the time that strikes terror into most people. But if one is to die prematurely, no complaining or self-pity can alter the fact. No one can foresee accidents, epidemics, and other forms of sudden death. It is therefore vain to go about in constant fear of the evils that might happen.