Claggart hates Billy because of his innocence and beauty. Claggart comes from a shady background and is possibly foreign by birth. He is not well known to the captain because he joined the crew when it last left home port to replace the former master-of-arms, who was disabled. Because of his inner corruption, Claggart brings about his own death and is buried at sea. Captain "Starry" Vere A dedicated career naval officer in his fifties who allows obedience to duty to force the condemnation and execution of an innocent man, even though Vere sympathizes with Billy and recognizes his innate innocence. The captain distinguishes himself in battle off Gibraltar and dies of a musketball wound.
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He is impressed to this large warship from another, smaller, merchant ship, The Rights of Man named after the book by Thomas Paine. As his former ship moves off, Budd shouts, "Good-bye to you too, old Rights-of-Man. His only physical defect is a stutter which grows worse when under intense emotion. Claggart, while not unattractive, seems somehow "defective or abnormal in the constitution", possessing a "natural depravity. Melville further opines that envy is "universally felt to be more shameful than even felonious crime.
Claggart makes his case and Billy, astounded, is unable to respond, due to his stutter. In his extreme frustration he strikes out at Claggart, killing him instantly. Vere convenes a drumhead court-martial. He acts as convening authority , prosecutor , defense counsel and sole witness except for Billy. Yet the angel must hang! The martial law in effect states that during wartime the blow itself, fatal or not, is a capital crime.
Condemned to be hanged the morning after his attack on Claggart, Billy before his execution says, "God bless Captain Vere! His last words are "Billy Budd, Billy Budd. The gazette article described Budd as a conspiring mutineer likely of foreign birth and mysterious antecedents who is confronted by John Claggart. The master-at-arms, loyally enforcing the law, is fatally stabbed by Budd. The gazette concludes that the crime and weapon used suggest a foreign birth and subversive character; it reports that the mutineer was executed and nothing is amiss aboard HMS Bellipotent.
The adult, experienced man represented in the poem is not the innocent youth portrayed in the preceding chapters. Writing history[ edit ] The last known image of the author, taken in He started it as a poem, a ballad entitled "Billy in the Darbies", which he intended to include in his book, John Marr and Other Sailors. Melville composed a short, prose head-note to introduce the speaker and set the scene. The character of "Billy" in this early version was an older man condemned for inciting mutiny and apparently guilty as charged.
He did not include the poem in his published book. Melville incorporated the ballad and expanded the head-note sketch into a story that eventually reached manuscript pages. This was the first of what were to be three major expansions, each related to one of the principal characters. The state of this manuscript has been described as "chaotic," with a bewildering array of corrections, cancellations, cut and pasted leaves, annotations inscribed by several hands, and with at least two different attempts made at a fair copy.
The composition proceeded in three general phases, as shown by the Melville scholars Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr. As the focus of his attention shifted from one to another of these three principals, the plot and thematic emphasis of the expanding novel underwent consequent modifications within each main phase.
Just where the emphasis finally lay in the not altogether finished story as he left it is, in essence, the issue that has engaged and divided the critics of Billy Budd. Publication history[ edit ] First edition cover page, In August , Raymond M. She gave him access to all the records of Melville which survived in the family: manuscripts, letters, journals, annotated books, photographs, and a variety of other material.
Among these papers, Weaver was astonished to find a substantial manuscript for an unknown prose work entitled Billy Budd. In he published another version of the text which, despite numerous variations, may be considered essentially the same text. Subsequent editions of Billy Budd up through the early s are, strictly speaking, versions of one or the other of these two basic texts.
It was published by the University of Chicago Press , and contains both a "reading" and a "genetic" text. Most editions printed since then follow the Hayford-Sealts text. Based on the confusing manuscripts, the published versions had many variations.
In addition, some early versions did not follow his change of the name of the ship to Bellipotent from the Latin bellum war and potens powerful , from Indomitable, as Melville called it in an earlier draft. It is unclear of his full intentions in changing the name of the ship since he used the name Bellipotent only six times. Raymond Weaver, its first editor, was initially unimpressed and described it as "not distinguished".
After its publication debut in England, and with critics of such caliber as D. Lawrence and John Middleton Murry hailing it as a masterpiece, Weaver changed his mind. In the introduction to its second edition in the Shorter Novels of Herman Melville, he declared: "In Pierre, Melville had hurled himself into a fury of vituperation against the world; with Billy Budd he would justify the ways of God to man. In relatively short order he and several other influential British literati had managed to canonize Billy Budd, placing it alongside Moby-Dick as one of the great books of Western literature.
Wholly unknown to the public until , Billy Budd by had joint billing with the book that had just recently been firmly established as a literary masterpiece. In its first text and subsequent texts, and as read by different audiences, the book has kept that high status ever since. When he enlarged the book with the third major section, developing Captain Vere, he deleted the end-note, as it no longer applied to the expanded story. Parker wonders what they could possibly have understood from the passage as written.
The second view, a reaction against the first, holds that Billy Budd is ironic, and that its real import is precisely the opposite of its ostensible meaning. All three of these views of Billy Budd are in their own sense true. Fogle  Hershel Parker agrees that "masterpiece" is an appropriate description of the book, but he adds a proviso. Examining the history and reputation of Billy Budd has left me more convinced than before that it deserves high stature although not precisely the high stature it holds, whatever that stature is and more convinced that it is a wonderfully teachable story—as long as it is not taught as a finished, complete, coherent, and totally interpretable work of art.
Thomas J. Scorza has written about the philosophical framework of the story. He understands the work as a comment on the historical feud between poets and philosophers. She also interprets the mutiny scare aboard the Bellipotent, the political circumstances that are at the center of the events of the story, as a portrayal of homophobia. Earlier readers viewed Captain Vere as good man trapped by bad law.
Richard Weisberg , who holds degrees in both comparative literature and law, argued that Vere was wrong to play the roles of witness, prosecutor, judge and executioner, and that he went beyond the law when he sentenced Billy to immediate hanging.
Bruce Franklin sees a direct connection between the hanging of Budd and the controversy around capital punishment. Guert Gansevoort , a defendant in a later investigation, was a first cousin of Melville. He acknowledges that Melville was writing at a time before the word "sociopath" was used. Robert Hare might classify Claggart as a psychopath, since his personality did not demonstrate the traits of a sociopath rule-breaking but of grandiosity, conning manipulation and a lack of empathy or remorse.
In , Louis O. Forster and Eric Crozier. It follows the earlier text of Since its premiere in December , the opera has become a regular production at the Metropolitan Opera house in Manhattan, New York City.
Billy Budd, Foretopman