Using an examination of Act One, Scene Three (punishment) as a starting point, explore the varying ways in which Wertenbaker presents different attitudes to punishment in the play as a whole?

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Saturday, 14 December 2002                Jad Salfiti

A2 English Literature

Using an examination of Act One, Scene Three (punishment) as a starting point, explore the varying ways in which Wertenbaker presents different attitudes to punishment in the play as a whole?

‘Our Country’s Good’ is based on events that occurred in the first penal colony to be set up in Australia in 1789. The play deals with the prisoners in the colony, who were imprisoned for minor infractions, while still in Britain. It tells of the abuse they endured at the hands of their officers, in the world's most remote outpost. Some British convicts were dragged over from Britain for petty crimes such as stealing a morsel of food. These harsh laws were imposed in direct response to public opinion. This ‘public’ wanted severe punishment for those crimes committed against property (i.e. theft), and was less concerned with crimes against the self (i.e. murder).  After a horrendously severe voyage at sea, and with rations becoming dangerously low, the Governor of the colony, Captain Arthur Phillip realizes that morale is at an all time low. In an effort to uplift the spirits of the convicts and officers, he suggests a stage play be presented. The convicts would take the parts in this comedy; ‘The Recruiting Officer’.

In Act One Scene Three, political conflict in shown in attitudes towards punishment: should prison act to rehabilitate or to punish. This scene is analogous to a court of law; the characters are used as devices to articulate the views of different social philosophers. The officers have the opportunity to shape “a little society” in this penal colony; their political leanings are demonstrated by way of their opinions regarding the mounting of the play. The underlying question is whether an individual can reform his or her ways or sin is “in their nature”.

On the Left-wing of the political spectrum, Rousseau argued that the brain is a ‘blank slate’ at birth therefore man in born in a state of innocence and that what we become depends almost solely on our environmental experiences, and civilisation is, paradoxically, corrupting. On the Right Wing
hese contrasting political views are epitomised by Captain Ross and Governor Phillip. Ross fervently believes criminals commit crimes knowingly and should be punished accordingly, regardless of the circumstances which may have given rise to the crime. Phillip on the other hand, believes that whilst punishment is sometimes necessary, education is an alternative; the he hopes the result being that the convicts will not re-offend. In dealing with such issues the play is deliberately contemporary - such arguments continue to take place two hundred years on. This Play is as much about the 1980s and it is about the 1780s, Prime Minister Thatcher had major problems with the penal system within Britain and its purpose.

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Collin’s political affiliation is shown “it might, possibly, do some good”, Collins evidently has no objections to the play and is therefore a liberal. The Liberal humanist view also emerges within the play. Great art connects us to universal truths and through art we learn what it is to be a human and art is seen as an agent of moral change. Furthermore Human Liberalism asserts that art and compassion inspire and motivate us as source of moral and spiritual guidance. Affirming the dignity of each human being, it supports the maximization of individual liberty and opportunity consonant with ...

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