Posted by ESC on August 27, 2002
In Reply to: Discretion is the better part of valour posted by TheFallen on August 27, 2002
: : What does this Shakespearean phrase mean?
: "The better part of valour is discretion, in the which better part I have saved my life." As said by Falstaff in Henry IV Part One. From memory, I think Falstaff is hinting that he has hidden or even played dead when on a battlefield in order to avoid any personal danger. These days, the phrase means more generically that caution is a smarter policy to adopt than hot-headedness.
The better part of valor is discretion. Henry IV, Part One, V, iv, 119. (Spoken by Falstaff, whose discretion might also be termed cowardice) From "A Dictionary of Quotations from Shakespeare," selected by Margaret Miner and Hugh Rawson, Penguin Books, New York, 1992.
DISCRETION IS THE BETTER PART OF VALOR - Exercise caution, don't take unnecessary risks. Proper judgment is better than unwarranted bravery. The proverb has been traced back to Caxton's 'Jason' (c.1477) and was popularized by Shakespeare in 'King Henry the Fourth, Part I' (1597-98) and by Beaumont and Fletcher in 'A King and No King' . First attested in the United States in Benjamin Franklin's 'Poor Richard's Almanac' ." From the "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996).