Richard III "Conscience Is But A Word That Cowards Use"
by William Shakespeare

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"Conscience Is But A Word That Cowards Use"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Before the battle of Bosworth Field, where he will be killed by Richmond, Richard in his sleep sees the ghosts of the people he has killed. When he awakens, he knows his conscience is hurting him. He complains, "O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!" Again, he complains, "My conscience hath a thousand several tongues, / And every tongue brings in a several tale, / And every tale condemns me for a villain." But as the battle approaches, and he must lead his men, he tries to stifle the voice of conscience:

. . .
Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devised at first to keep the strong in awe.
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.
. . .