I went back to the bedroom to ask Doug,
"What is it that makes cowards of us all?"
"Thus something doth make cowards of us all."
"No, it's two syllables."
"Yes. Thus tumpty doth make cowards of us all."
Doug couldn't remember either. I went to Google to look it up.
One of the many handy things about Google is that you can use an asterisk as a wild card in a search. So I typed in the phrase like this, in quotes:
"Thus * doth make cowards of us all."
And up popped the answer, right away. Conscience. Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all. From Hamlet. Of course.
I'm still not sure where that came from. I'm reading Alcatraz Versus The Shattered Lens,and last night got to the chapter where every line of dialog is a quote from Hamlet, but I don't think that line was in there. Or maybe it was. I'll have to go back and check.
(I should specify that almost every line of dialog in that chapter is from Hamlet--one of the bad guys quotes a line from Macbeth and Bastille kicks him in the groin.)
Tumpty is of course the placeholder for words of two syllables. Frequently combined with its one-syllable companion tum. Used memorably by Nanny Ogg upon her first encounter with iambic pentameter:
"I suppose you're an expert at theater words?" said Granny sarcastically. "They'd have to be the proper sort, otherwise people would suspect."
"Shouldn't be too difficult," said Nanny Ogg dismissively. "I've been studyin' it. You go tumpty-tumpty-tumpty."
Granny gave this some consideration.
"There's more to it than that, I believe," she said. "Some of those speeches were very good. I couldn't understand hardly any of it."
(From Terry Pratchett's Wyrd Sisters)
I love the internet.