Courage in war is a very difficult phrase to attach a simple definition to. As far as I am concerned, it describes an emotion or feeling of fear and bravery in the mind, heart and soul of soldiers. Many opinions exist on what courage in war really is. In the following, I will attempt to define it.
James Boswell, an author in the 1700's, wrote in The Life of Johnson of a conversation regarding the courage of soldiers in war. In this conversation, one man asks of courage and if it's not acquired. The response he is given suggests that separately soldiers lack courage, but together, such as in times of war, they collectively possess it.
SCOTT. "But is not courage mechanical, and to be acquired?” JOHNSON. "Why, yes, Sir, in a collective sense. Soldiers consider themselves only as parts of a great machine.” (Boswell 384).
William Shakespeare, the famous writer of poetry and English plays, wrote about the idea of courage for the sake of honor in act four, scene four of his famous play, Hamlet. In this scene, Hamlet is in a soliloquy about the Norwegian prince's decision to engage the forces. The prince made this decision knowing that in doing so it is very possible that the Norwegians will lose thousands of men. However, the Prince feels it is for an honorable cause, so he is willing to lose those men.
Examples gross as earth exhort me;.
Witness this army of such mass and charge.
Led by a delicate and tender prince,.
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff'd.
Makes mouths at the invisible event,.
Exposing what is mortal and unsure.
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,.
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great.
Is not to stir without great argument,.
But greatly to find quarrel in straw.
When honors at stake. (Shakespeare II 59).
Many questions come to mind in such a scenario. Is honor even worth the courage that defends it in such a situation? Can the defense of honor justify the men killed? This defense of honor serves as Shakespeare's take on courage in war.