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What Continuities And Changes In Attitudes To Crime And Punishment Are Represented In The Texts? Essay, Research Paper
Disease, alcoholism, crime and prostitution were all
rife in eighteenth century England.?
England had the bloodiest law code in Europe, there were over four hundred
offences for which the punishment was death, including stealing goods worth
just five shillings.? The hangings at
Tyburn had been turned into a gory ritual, with the criminals being used as
circus exhibits for the duration of their last few days alive, and thousands
would crowd onto Tyburn Hill to watch.?
In the country, the situation was just as bad with popular use of
enclosure throwing many off the land, and the harsh game laws – where to poach
a rabbit had a sentence equal to that of murder!? Worse still, this was not common across Europe, in fact such
harsh laws and bloody entertainment were renowned as quintessentially English. ??????????? Towards
the end of the eighteenth century there was a definite atmosphere of increasing
social repression.? In Caleb Williams,
Falkland is shown to believe that the distinction in ranks is necessary for the
peace of the land, so long as the rich accept their duty to assist the
poor.? Falkland is a very honourable
man, in the beginning of the novel he protects both the Hawkins and Emily
Melvile from the tyranny of Tyrrel, but on both counts fails.? Falkland represents the honour codes of the
English gentry; he has absorbed them, and follows them rather than thinking for
himself.? This brings him into trouble;
his socially created hatred of tyranny leads to his murdering of Tyrrel.? This in turn leading to Falkland becoming a
tyrant himself in order to protect his reputation from the truth which Caleb
holds.? Godwin is trying to show his
readers how the old ideas of ?honour? and ?class? no longer work – they fail to
protect Falkland from committing a murder, and neither are they strong enough
to cause him to stop an innocent man going to the gallows for that murder.? The old ways also mean that Tyrrel can get
away with his persecution of both the Hawkinses and Emily.? As Tyrrel says in the case of Emily, he did
nothing but what the law allows – he is able to escape punishment for something
about which he was most certainly in the wrong, and which led to her death. Equally, Raymond is forced to become a bandit, even
though he is a man of energy and integrity; and is unable to raise himself out
of crime because of the same class system?s control of justice.? Similarly, the Hawkins?s are evicted from
their farm for refusing to vote in accordance with Tyrrel?s (their landlord)
wishes.? Hawkins sums the situation up
well:?if we little folks had but the wit to do for ourselves, the great
folks would not be such maggoty changelings as they are.?The book attacks the highly corrupted justice
system, where those with class and money were given preferment over those of
low birth.? Tyrrel is able to use the
law to evict Hawkins, even though he has a lease, Hawkins even says ?I hope there is some law for poor folk, as
well as rich?.? Caleb later laments
that even though the law was originally set up as a ?safeguard? for the poor,
in the eighteenth century it is more the case that:?wealth and despotism easily know how to engage those laws as the
coadjutors of their oppression?Hawkins
adds that:?law was better adapted for a weapon of tyranny in the hands of the
rich, than for a shield to protect the humbled part of the community against
their usurpations.?Other examples of this inequality are the ease in
which Falkland is able to turn the whole of Britain into Caleb?s prison, and
how one magistrate refuses to even listen to Caleb?s accusation of Falkland -
even though it is the truth. ??????????? The
justice system of England is not only corrupted by the class system, it is
generally corrupt too.? The accused, if
of the wrong class, is normally held as guilty until he proves his innocence,
as in Caleb?s case when he is nearly transported for the robbing of the mail,
simply because he is acting the part of an Irishman.? As the story continues Caleb?s experience of the law grows, at
one point he describes it as devoid of humanity, turning ?into marble the hearts of all those that are nursed in its
principles.?? Another issue of justice in
the eighteenth century was the thief-taker.?
Gines is the thief-taker employed by Falkland to keep a steady eye on
Caleb, and prevent him from obtaining a social position from which he could
tell the world of Falkland?s crime.?
Gines is shown as a vicious man, originally a criminal, who upon finding
Caleb begging for food (before being hired by Falkland) wishes to kill
him.? Thief-takers were men who tracked
down criminals, there being no police force.?
Often they worked for either the victim of a crime, or the magistrate,
both of whom would pay them for their services.? Many thief-takers though created the thieves first before
reporting them to the authorities, in order to claim the substantial financial
reward on offer.? Thief-takers were a
hated part of eighteenth century society, often being killed by the mob.? The common dislike for them was so great
that many used it as a defence at their trial!?
Godwin?s portrayal of Gines as a dirty rogue is entirely fitting with
the contemporary view of such men. Gay?s Beggar?s Opera also
represents the idea of the thief taker very well, and it is believed that
Peachum was based on Jonathan Wild.?
Wild was the self styled Thief-Taker General of Great Britain and
Ireland, he even had a Lost Property Office at the Old Bailey where the gentry
could come to ?look? for anything they had had stolen – for a price.? Wild was a famous public figure and hated by
many because he was in charge of all aspects of crime in the capital – he had
more control than the police could ever dream of.? Thief-taking became a profession in 1706 when new laws meant that
anyone reporting a criminal who was subsequently convicted would receive
?40.? This was a very lucrative trade,
but a very dangerous one if you were not a person of power such as Peachum,
Lockit or Wild.? Thief-takers were often
killed by angry mobs in the streets or hunted down and murdered.? Therefore, Gay?s portrayal of Peachum was a
very fair description of a kind of criminal who the upper classes did not know
whether to love or hate, he brings in criminals yet is one himself. Beggar?s Opera is occupied
by the problem of justice in eighteenth century England, but was in reality
more concerned with the Italian import of the Opera. Italian opera had arrived
in Britain in 1705 and until 1728 it was the most popular medium of performing
art. ?The eighteenth century audiences
liked the exotic aspect of it, a kind of holiday from normal life.? However, English eighteenth century artists
and authors generally viewed it with sarcasm and to some extent feared its
success; for example Addison and Steele had written against it throughout both
their periodicals.? In the 1720s opera
was becoming even worse, with the imported Italian sopranos being paid huge
sums of money, ?2,500 in some cases, and fighting each other constantly.? The top two, Faustina and Cuzzoni were cast
side by side in 1727, coming to blows on stage in June leading to the
abandoning of the performance! One pamphlet about them was titled ?A full and true account of a most horrible
and bloody battle between Madame Faustina and Madame Cuzzoni?.? Their animosity towards each other was one
of the biggest news stories of the year, second only to the death of King
George I.? Gay makes the most of this
opportunity to ridicule the foreign art form, setting his two leading ladies
against each other over the hand of Macheath; and then in the introduction the
Beggar states:?As to the parts, I have observed such a nice impartiality to our two
ladies, that it is impossible for either of them to take offence?The Beggar?s Opera was so effective in its attack
because it both parodied and inverted the standards of opera.? There were all the familiar similes and song
forms; there were two rival heroines and a total lack of concern for the
?natural? or normal way of things.?
Instead of the high born gentry of the opera, the heroes of the piece
were thieves and whores.? The setting
was in prisons and alehouses not castles and temples and most cutting of all,
Gay set the words to English and Scottish folk songs, not drifting Italian
music.? Gay?s attack on the opera was
highly successful and highly praised for its triumph over the foreign arts in
nearly all the newspapers and periodicals of the time.? Many had ballads about Polly being better
than either of the Italian ladies. ?Thievery-a-la-Mode,?
a 1728 pamphlet, was typical of this:?Italian operas . . . have nothing in them either to reform the
manners, or improve the mind, the original institutions of the stage.? ??????????? The Beggar?s Opera showed the life of the
lowest people of society, a serious departure from Italian opera that was
entirely based around the upper classes.?
Gay was using a form with such recognised glamour and style to portray
the lowest people in society, and because of this, he was accused by many of
trying to glamorise the criminal society of the time.? The King?s chaplain, later to become Archbishop of Canterbury,
denounced Gay as the criminals? friend in a sermon.? In addition, Daniel Defoe complained that Gay had portrayed the
criminal classes in, ?so amiable a light
. . . that it has taught them to value themselves on their profession, rather
than be ashamed of it.?? Defoe also
saw a direct link between the popularity of Gay?s opera and the increasing
crime rate!? Such a view was
controversial because the control of crime was a serious problem to everyone in
London; the system was so confused as to be useless.? There were huge areas of the capital where it was extremely
unsafe to go at any time of day.? Gay?s
portrayal of the criminal classes was also controversial because he was making
the point that justice was itself unjust and that only the poor were
punished.? The clearest view of this is
in Macheath?s aria in Act III, scene xiii:?Since laws were made for every degree, To curb vice in others, as well as me, I wonder we han?t better company, Upon Tyburn Tree! But Gold from Law can take out the sting; And if rich men like us were to swing, ?Twould thin the land, such numbers to string Upon Tyburn Tree!?This aria also makes the
point that to be frankly criminal is more honourable than to hide one?s crimes
behind a cloak of respect – an allusion to the South Sea Bubble in which Guy
lost a lot of money.? This is echoed by
Peachum:?. . . and the statesman, because he?s so great, thinks his trade as
honest as mine.?The primary attitude towards
the criminal in the eighteenth century was one of fear especially in the
capital where in some areas even the constable needed five or six men with him
in order to avoid being murdered.? Gay?s
portrayal of the criminal classes as real people would have gone against
popular opinion that valued the death penalty as an appropriate punishment for
most crimes.? To show the sorrow that
attended the execution of a criminal was something that people did not want to
see or to think about.? Many believed
that it was the criminal?s own fault that they were in their position, that an
idle life had brought them to a life of crime.?
Hogarth shows this point of view in ?Industry
and Idleness?; the idle apprentice falls into a life of crime while the
hardworking apprentice rises through society.?
In fact, the contrast could not be more pronounced with Idle ending up
on the scaffold for murder and Goodchild becoming Lord Mayor of London. The idea of the poor falling
to crime due to their own idleness was only made stronger by the gin-drinking
epidemic sweeping the underworld of the capital throughout the early eighteenth
century.? Hogarth represents all the
gentry?s fears in his print ?Gin Lane?
where buildings are falling apart and the people are bedraggled and dying due
to them spending all of their money on gin.?
The mother sitting on the steps, dropping her baby fits very well with
the story of Judith Dufour who in 1734 strangled her two-year-old child and
sold its clothes in order to buy more Gin.?
However, Hogarth in ?The Four
Stages of Cruelty? shows the route to crime as being the abuse of animals
and not idleness.? In both the first and
second prints the central character is seen to be abusing animals, firstly for
fun and next for money before his downfall.?
It is thought that this portrayal has much to do with Hogarth?s personal
love of animals rather than simply being a moral tale. Throughout the eighteenth
century no one knew what to do about crime, the current system was corrupt and
inefficient and crime levels were increasing.?
This all led to a greater anxiety among the upper classes towards crime,
they either wished to deny its existence or spent much energy trying to solve
the problem.? I think that Hogarth and
Gay do give a fair description of some attitudes towards the criminal but that
not all attitudes are represented.? This
is partly because the use of criminals in the Beggar?s Opera is to make a point
about opera rather than to educate the audience about real criminals.? Likewise, Hogarth tackles much more in his
work than the criminal classes.?
However, both Hogarth and Gay were representing the criminals from the
perspective of their own classes and therefore it is reasonable to believe that
their portrayal of attitudes towards criminals would be a reasonably fair one
with regards to bourgeois attitudes to such people..
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