THE COWARD is a play about pistol dueling in 18th century England. I started writing it while trying to understand why anyone would agree to get up early, go stand in a field, and let someone fire a pistol at them. It used to baffle me---because I was ignorant. More importantly, I had no honor. For a man of honor, dueling requires no explanation: It is just one of those invisible things you grow up believing in---like God, or magnets. Though it's difficult for our culture (or at least me) to understand, I believe a brief discussion of honor will be helpful in understanding my play. And by discussion, I mean I will tell you what I heard, and then you can add to that by saying what you heard, or make comments about something completely unrelated.


Apparently, honor was something that existed prior to 20th century, which convinced people to do things they wouldn't ordinarily want to do, like fight duels, or not grope women in crowded places. Honor controlled people's behavior by convincing them that they were only half a person without it---sort of like a parasite that you can't remove because it would kill the host, or a really clingy girlfriend. We have forces in our society now that resemble honor, and the word is still bandied about in speeches, but the context was very different in the old days. To lose your honor meant losing everything: your standing in society, your girlfriend, and sometimes even your property. To keep your honor, you acted within the guidelines of a code of honor, which were sometimes spoken, but more often just insinuated. A man with honor acted a certain way; that's how people recognized he was a man of honor. If you had to be reminded of your duties, you were either a child, or not honorable to begin with.

First question for discussion:

At what age should a child be expected to fight his first duel?

(Nick Jones is the author of THE COWARD.)