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Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once

“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once” is a quote used in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, in Act II, Scene 2.

This quote is one of the best-known from this Shakespearean history play. It is spoken by Julius Caesar in Act II, Scene 2 while in conversation with his wife. She’s attempting to dissuade him from leaving the home through her warnings about bad omens in regard to his death. 

She knows that something terrible is going to happen (as Brutus and the conspirators are planning to kill Ceasar) but he doesn’t heed her warnings. He is stubborn and determined not to hide from his fate. He believes that if something terrible is going to happen to him that it is fated to happen and nothing will change that. 

Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once


Important Vocabulary to Know

  • Valiant: showing courage or determination in the face of adversity. 
  • Taste: in this case, it means experience. Caesar is saying that the brave never experience or touch death until their final death while the cowardly taste it all the time.


“Cowards die many times before their deaths…” Meaning

This famous quote from Julius Caesar says that those who are cowardly are going to die many times before they actually pass away.

This suggests that every time they do not face their fears, back out of a confrontation, or let something pass they should’ve stood up against, they are dying. This is a metaphorical death, a moral death. They lose a part of their soul, Shakespeare’s Caesar is suggesting. 

The valiant, he adds in the next line, or the brave, only die once. Anytime they are faced with difficulties they stand up against them. They fight off any embarrassment and maintain their reputation throughout their lives. 

In the following lines, Caesar adds that it seems strange to him that men avoid death. It’s one of the strangest things he’s ever heard or seen throughout his years, he says, and he’s seen a lot of strange things. Death can’t be avoided. It’s going to “come when it will come.” He believes that people should face up to their deaths bravely and valiantly rather than trying to run from them. This is the only way to live a valiant life. 

Where Does Shakespeare Use This Quote?

William Shakespeare included this quote in his history play, Julius Caesar. The quote appears in Act II, Scene 2, lines thirty-four and thirty-five. Here is the quote in context

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.

The lines are spoken by Julius Caesar himself in response to his wife, Calpurnia’s words. The two are having a conversation, spurred on by her dreams about her husband’s murder. She tells him that he shouldn’t leave the house because there are so many ill omens in her dreams and in their waking lives. He doesn’t believe that anything can change the plans of the gods though. Calpurnia replies with: 

When beggars die there are no comets seen; 

The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of 

princes.

It’s after this three-line quote that Caesar speaks his famous “Cowards die many times” quote and a servant enters the room. 

Why Did Shakespeare Use This Quote? 

Shakespeare uses this quote to show the character of Caesar. He trusts in the gods and in his fate. He believes that everything happens for a reason and that he can’t change what the world has in store for him. This keeps him from heeding his wife’s warnings but also makes him an admirable character. 

Through this quote, Caesar is trying to define his own character. His death is coming, whether he believes it is going to be within the next couple of days or decades from that moment. He wants to live according to his principles. This means not running from fear but facing it head-on. Interestingly, if he had heeded his wife’s warnings he might’ve managed to save his own life. 

FAQs

Who said the quote “Cowards die many times before their deaths the valiant never taste of death but once?”

This quote was spoken by Julius Caesar in the Shakespearean play, Julius Caesar. It was used in Act II, Scene 2 in conversation with his wife, Calpurnia. The latter had been experiencing nightmares about her husband’s impending death. 

What does Caesar mean by “Cowards die many times before their deaths the valiant never taste of death but once?”

He means that those who run from their fears and never face them are dying metaphorical deaths. They are losing a part of their self-worth and their soul in doing so. The brave never experience this kind of degradation. 

What does Caesar say about death and fate in the quote “Cowards die many times before their deaths the valiant never taste of death but once?”

Caesar believes that fate is unavoidable and that death is something that one cannot escape and should therefore not fear. There is no need to run from death because it’s impossible to get away from it. In his mind, this allows him to acknowledge it without fear. 


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