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Julius Caesar is referring to those who would threaten his life and position of power. Because he is confident of his backing among the citizens of Rome, Caesar feels himself to be invincible. He considers that anyone who would challenge him must be a cowardly traitor, filled with worry about the plans they create to try to depose him of his position and power ("die many times before their deaths") or a brave warrior who will engage in combat without hesitation, even to the inevitable death that would meet anyone who opposes him ("the valiant never taste of death but once.") Caesar is saluting those who aren't filled with cowardly dread and apprehension as they prepare for battle or action, but instead go forth bravely to meet whatever happens.
To me, what this quote means is that backing down is something like dying. This is a very macho quote, in my opinion. A coward dies many times because every time he backs down instead of fighting, it is like he is dying. The implication here is that being brave is an integral part of being male. When a man backs down, then, some part of him dies.
If you think you are dying everytime you are confronted with an obstacle or something to be feared, you die a little each time, and have to expend your energy to recover from that feeling each time. It is mentally and emotionally wearing. On the other hand, the brave and fearless only die when they actually die. They don't have to suffer through the ups and downs of all of life's trials. They are not immune from trials, but it is all about their attitude in the face of those trials. I think the quote is equally applicable to both sexes.
People who lack fortitude whine, repine, and are anxious any time there is a threatening situation that presents itself. These people are the faint-hearted, the "cowards" to whom Caesar refers. Since they quake in the face of authority, of truth, of integrity, of danger, they, therefore, "die many times" as, in their pusillanimous reactions, they surrender their authenticity.
However, the individual of integrity does not surrender his values in situations that are threatening because he has fortitude; he is authentic. Therefore, he only dies when his body stops breathing whereas the coward has seen himself quake, or "die," over and over.
The Founding Fathers of this country lived this ideal as presented by Caesar [e.g. Thomas Paine: "Give me liberty or give me death!"; Thomas Jefferson's "It is the right and the duty of the people to revolt" when a government becomes too oppressive], but nowadays, our politicos live as the "cowards" of Caesar's speech.
I think about this in the sense of "if only" syndrome. Many times we miss opportunities to be heroic if only in small moments. Every time we fail to stand up for something, help someone, defend the weak or infirm, we fail to be proactive, often we look back and say "if only I had...” To look back with regret and implied failure we damage our own self-esteem. We must face the opportunity we lost or the hurt that we could have prevented and know we were somehow lacking in the integrity and bravery that was required of the moment. A valiant person takes the chance and regardless of his success or failure he never has to look back with "if only" or "what if" thoughts, his/her mind rests at ease and with pride knowing he/she did what was necessary in difficult situation.
I love this quote.
I believe that Shakespeare is using Julius Caesar to make note of the difference between cowardice and bravery. A coward dies many times as he considers the possibility of his death, which is probably what keeps him from standing up to the fear of death by whatever danger that lies before him. However, a brave man will enter into "the fray" and live or die. He will not imagine his death with paralyzing fear as does the coward. If he dies, I would assume that by taking such a valiant step in the first place, he is already reconciled to the possibility of dying. A brave man's death then would be literal, whereas the many deaths the coward imagines occur repeatedly and are figurative in this quote.
I really have enjoyed reading the entries above, that look to the quote in a modern context that deals with life's battles. It proves to me, once again, that Shakespeare's writing is timeless, and it was great to look at this quote from a new and fresh standpoint as to what it means to me, today, which I have never done.
Good question. Great responses.
I believe the quote means that cowards live in fear or defeat, and that is not truly living. To live in fear is to not enjoy life. A coward would live in a constant state of fear. The result would be abnormality. The difference in one who fears and one who is brave is the difference between truly living and dying.
The brave or valiant live life to the fullest. They do not fear death. They face life with all of its obstacles with courage. The valiant die only once. Their view of life is to face the trials and tribulations with honorable courage, and when it is time to die, they do so with bravery.
By giving into the pressure and doing what you don't believe is right, you are in a sense giving up your sould and in effect "dying". This quote adds an element of foreshadowing because Caesar is saying he refuses to walk around scared and make decisions just to keep his opposition happy. He is going to continue to do things his way and if it becomes his downfall, he can at least say that he lived his life standing up rather than on his knees.
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