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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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