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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: October ::
The Demise of the Coward
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0957  Sunday, 29 October 2006

[1] 	From: 	Bob Lapides <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 25 Oct 2006 10:01:12 EDT
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0949 The Demise of the Coward

[2] 	From: 	Bruce Young <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 25 Oct 2006 11:57:06 -0600
	Subj: 	RE: SHK 17.0949 The Demise of the Coward

[3] 	From: 	V. K. Inman <
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	Date: 	Wednesday, 25 Oct 2006 20:19:31 -0400
	Subj: 	Re: SHK 17.0949 The Demise of the Coward


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bob Lapides <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 25 Oct 2006 10:01:12 EDT
Subject: 17.0949 The Demise of the Coward
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0949 The Demise of the Coward

It took some courage for Sam Small to equate taking action against 
global warming with "supporting the grossly corrupt Green industry," as 
he put it. But he sidestepped my main point, which was that established 
values and goals are now so widely distrusted that it's not easy to say 
what is cowardly and what is simply self-preservation. Nor do we today 
have many public examples of heroism to measure cowardice against. Which 
present-day member of the ruling class would die for the reasons Philip 
Sidney did?  Perhaps when a militant opposition to the current 
establishment emerges, and we hear louder calls to act on principle, we 
will again worry about our own cowardice.

Bob Lapides

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Bruce Young <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 25 Oct 2006 11:57:06 -0600
Subject: 17.0949 The Demise of the Coward
Comment: 	RE: SHK 17.0949 The Demise of the Coward

I'm sure Shakespeare's plays include cowards of the usual sort and 
suspect they are presented more or less unsympathetically--though 
somehow the idea that "it would be permissible for [cowards of this 
sort] to be attacked at will" seems unShakespearean to me, more 
Jonsonian maybe.  In my way of reading and viewing Shakespeare, even the 
villains are not presented simply to be attacked or dismissed at will. 
Something more complicated is going on; some more complicated response 
is called for that usually includes a degree of self-reflection.

I'll leave it to others to come up with examples of the sort of 
Shakespearean coward Sam Small is looking for.  But what I find 
interesting is another Shakespearean character type: the character who 
claims to be courageous enough to do evil and who sometimes denigrates 
conscience as a source of cowardice.  Examples include Richard III, 
whose fear and self-loathing the night before the battle of Bosworth 
Field are produced by at least a trace of conscience (in 5.3, he refers 
to "coward conscience" and says "conscience is but a word that cowards 
use"); the murderers Richard has kill his brother Clarence in 1.4 
(talking themselves into being "resolute," they say it's best to get rid 
of conscience since "it makes a man a coward"); Macbeth once he deadens 
his conscience ("What man dare, that I dare"); perhaps the captain who 
agrees to hang Cordelia (in Lear 5.3.31-32, Edmund tells him, "to be 
tender-minded / Does not become a sword").  And note similar sentiments 
from Dionyza (Pericles 4.1.4-8) and Antonio in The Tempest (2.1.275-80).

Sometimes a more sympathetic figure, like Laertes, denounces conscience 
("Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit!  I dare damnation")--yet 
not, I think, with our unmixed approval.  Claudius uses Laertes's 
"bravery" for his own purposes, and, in the last scene, as Claudius 
encourages him to do Hamlet in, Laertes says, "And yet it is almost 
against my conscience."

And of course, Hamlet himself asserts that "conscience does make cowards 
of us all."  (By the way, I'm one of those who doesn't think the play 
celebrates Hamlet's quest for revenge.)

If I'm right, then along with any of the laughable or even despicable 
cowards in Shakespeare (maybe Falstaff, Pistol, or Parolles?), there is 
a whole class of Shakespearean characters who might have done better to 
listen to "coward conscience."  My point is that cowardice is not a 
simple thing in Shakespeare, not something we can simply "attack at will."

Bruce Young

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		V. K. Inman <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 25 Oct 2006 20:19:31 -0400
Subject: 17.0949 The Demise of the Coward
Comment: 	Re: SHK 17.0949 The Demise of the Coward

Quoting: Sam Small <
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 >>

 >What I was looking for was the Shakespearean coward.  That rotten fellow
 >who sees that a good thing should be done by him but is not prepared to
 >take the personal risk in doing it.  The reason he does not do it is
 >because he trembles with fear at the harm that may come to him.
 >Certainly in Shakespeare it would be permissible for this fellow to be
 >attacked at will. Someone beyond the pale.  If today we admire courage -
 >why don't we dislike cowardice?

V. K. Inman says: As a veteran of the U. S. Marine Corps who served in 
combat for a year during the Vietnam War as a lieutenant, platoon 
commander, I really searched my memories for an example of such a 
coward. There were no persons I knew in combat who were "Shakespearean" 
cowards. There were marines who were scared, nervous, and cried. There 
were marines who argued with me that certain missions should be called 
off as too dangerous. There were marines who could not bring themselves 
to aim at an enemy soldier and fire. But there were no Shakespearean 
cowards. It was Hal's band of brothers if anything.

Where did all the cowards go? I remember fellow students in college, 
before my Vietnam tour who were vehemently in favor of the war. They 
wore pins that said things like, 'bomb Hanoi' or "nuke 'em". These 
student's however were not signed up for ROTC and the one's that I still 
know of today, never served in Vietnam. If they served at all it was in 
the National Guard. Aren't these Shakespearean cowards?  If they 
believed in the war, that so many of us who actually served did not 
believe was just and good cause, and yet failed to go to the war when 
they had an opportunity is to me the vilest form of cowardice!

Former Vice President Dan Quayle was such a student. George W. Bush was 
not actively pro-war that I am aware of, but failed to go to war when he 
had the opportunity. The United States of America elected them to office 
while failing to elect decorated Veterans in both parties. Yes, I 
believe no one cares about cowardice any more. I can't tell you why, but 
I still give a damn about the band or brothers I served with and will be 
reuniting with some of them this coming Veteran's day.

Lt. Col V. K. Inman, USMC (Ret)

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