A Coward Dies A Thousand Deaths, Julius Caesar

author of the line cowards die many times before their deaths
One of the most impactful and memorable lines from the entire catalogue of William Shakespeare’s plays comes in Julius Caesar when the title character says “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.” What was Julius Caesar talking about? To whom was he talking to? We’ll address all of that and a little bit more but first, see below for the full quote with attribution.

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“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.”

Julius Caesar, ACT II Scene II by William Shakespeare

Who said it?

The character Julius Caesar says the line but technically it was written by William Shakespeare.

When was Julius Caesar written?

Julius Caesar was written in 1599. However, the play Julius Caesar is set in Rome in 44 BC.

What is the play about?

The play Julius Caesar is about the assassination of Julius Caesar and the resulting civil war.

Who is Julius Caesar talking to?

Julius Caesar is talking to his friend, Brutus.

When in Julius Caesar does this line appear?

This line appears in Act II, Scene II.

What is happening in Act II, Scene II of Julius Caesar?

In Act II, Scene II of Julius Caesar, Brutus discusses his concerns about Caesar with Cassius. Brutus is worried that Caesar is becoming too powerful and may try to make himself king. Cassius agrees with Brutus and suggests that they kill Caesar before he can take over the government.

Caesar meanwhile, is being begged by his wife (who was told to beware the ides of march) not to go into the senate that day. Caesar is adamant that everything is fine, but even if this is the day he is to die it is not worth worrying about. At first, he refuses her requests, then complies, only to be persuaded by members of the Senate to come in as pressing matters to require his attention.

What does Caesar mean by a coward dies a thousand times?

This means that someone who is afraid of dying dies many times in their head before they actually die, but someone who is brave only dies once. The speaker thinks it’s strange that people are afraid of death because it is something that happens to everyone and is unavoidable.

Consider that death, the actual passing from being alive to dead, only happens once and is in an instant. The fear that it is going to happen, however, is something that scares us at our very foundations. The fear of death is the oldest fear of our species and perhaps the only single fear we’ve shared with every other member of our species. However, Caesar argues, the best way to live is to just accept that death is inevitable and pay it no attention.

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