Thursday, 21 April 2016

"Billy Budd" by Herman Melville (a summary)

'Billy Budd' - Book Cover
The story is set aboard HMS Bellipotent in 1797, a tense period following mutinies in the Navy during the war between England and France. Billy Budd, 'the handsome sailor' of sailors folklore (Terrence Stamp) is impressed from a merchant man, the 'Rights of Man'. He quickly adjusts to life aboard a man-of-war and is a favourite of the crew, but he becomes the target of the envious and brutal master-at-arms, John Claggart. Claggart concocts a plot of a supposed mutiny and accuses Billy of being involved in it before the ship's commander, Captain Vere. The innocent Billy, unable to answer the charge because of a chronic stammer strikes Claggart on the fore head and kills him. 
Terrence Stamp



Vere, though recognising the falsity of Claggart's story and sympathising with the agonised Billy, fears reaction among the crew if Billy is not punished for assaulting a superior. He calls a drumhead court and instructs it to find Billy guilty of a capital crime. The court, though troubled by the ambiguities of the case and by Vere's precipitate action condemns Billy, who is hanged from the yard arm after crying out, 'God Bless Captain Vere!' Sometime later Vere (played by Peter Ustinov) is killed during an engagement with the French, his last murmured words are Billy's name.
(An excerpt from the Companion to Literature in English)