Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘1596’

Cowards Die Many Deaths

Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 25, 2013

It’s an expression that’s been used often — sometimes well, sometimes incorrectly — and packs a punch with its delivery.  What it means is that while those who are cowardly oftentimes experience the dread that comes from facing death whenever they are confronted with difficult situations they would rather not acknowledge or address. Those who are brave, however, face the challenges and obstacles that life throws at them and only experience the dread that comes from facing death when they actually face death.

The “many deaths” cowards experience is the repeatedly overwhelming fear that paralyzes the person emotionally (and sometimes physically as well if the level of fear is great enough), refusing to deal appropriately with the situation at hand. Those who are brave, deal with the situation at hand, and accept the roses and thorns that come with dealing with the situation at hand.

In a Letter to the Editor in the April 12, 1988 edition of the New York Times, Cameron S. Moseley of New York City wrote about a discussion he’d had with William Elwell of Waterbury (CT). Mr. Elwell talked about a visit from a former student of his who hadn’t excelled academically when he taught him. The former student was in the Army Air Forces and had this to say about his high school English class:

“I wanted to tell you that something I learned in your class helped get me through my missions as a tail gunner. I kept repeating it to myself over and over: Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.”

He ended the story by stating that it was moments like that one that made teaching Julius Caesar worth the effort.

The Fielding Star newspaper of September 4, 1916 chose an intriguing way to showcase the quote from Shakespeare’s play, announcing it thusly:

Melbourne, September 4.
Probate to the amount of £29,662 was paid on the estate of Madame Melba’s father (Mr. Mitchell).

Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once.” – Shakespeare.

The oft-repeated quote is found in Act II, Scene II of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1599.

Cowards die many times before their deaths.
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

An earlier version of this concept is found in a manuscript by English poet, Michael Drayton (1563 – 23 December 1631) entitled, “Mortimeriados: The Lamentable Ciuell Vvarres of Edward the Second and the Barrons.” It was published in 1596 and contains this passage:

A person who lacks courage is disgraced each time he faces adversity.  

It appears to have been a common theme even back then. Since Shakespeare was the better known of the two, it’s understandable that Michael Drayton‘s version would be overlooked in favor of William Shakespeare‘s. That being said, it’s unlikely that the thought originated with either of these gentlemen and so while neither expression can be traced back any further than the 1590s, it’s not unlikely the expression was around since at least the 1550s and most likely long before then.


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Send Him Packing

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 18, 2010

If you want to dismiss an individual peremptorily, it’s as  simple as sending him or her packing.  The book “Popular Antiquities of Great Britain: The Origin of our Vulgar and Provincial Customs, Ceremonies and Superstitions” written in 1872 by John Brand, M.A., Fellow and Secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of London (England) contains the phrase on page 59 in the story “Sorcerer or Magician.”

If he can once compass him, and get him in Lob’s pound, he’ll make nothing of him, but speak a few hard words to him, and perhaps bind him over to his good behaviour for a thousand years.

Ay, ay, he’ll send him packing to his grave again with a flea in his ear, I warrant him.

However, the phrase, “send him packing” goes back to William Shakespeare’s Henry IV written in 1596 where, in Part I, the following exchange is found between Falstaff and Henry:

What manner of man is he?

An old man.

What doth gravity out of his bed at midnight? Shall I give him his answer?

Prithee, do, Jack.

‘Faith, and I’ll send him packing.

Shakespeare thought the phrase was so effective that he also used it in his play King Lear written between 1603 and 1606 in which we hear Ragan say:

“My father with her is quarter-master still,
 And many times restrains her of her will:
 But if he were with me, and served me so,
 I’d send him packing somewhere else to go.
 I’d entertain him with such slender cost
 That he should quickly wish to change his host.”

So once again, the prize goes to William Shakespeare for having penned the phrase “send him packing” that is now solidly entrenched in the English language.

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