Friday, August 17, 2007

Wordsworth on capital punishment

Those teaching law-and-literature courses this year may be interested in reading this recently published article:

Gregg Mayer, The Poet and Death: Literary Reflections on Capital Punishment through the Sonnets of William Wordsworth, 21 St. John's J. Legal Comment 727 (2007). It's available on LexisNexis and on Westlaw. The first paragraph is intriguing: "No poet has more vigorously, thoroughly and eloquently defended the state's right to execute than the great Romantic poet William Wordsworth. In 1841, fearing abolition of capital punishment when Parliament passed a bill eliminating the death penalty as punishment for 200 offenses, Wordsworth, then 71, composed a series of Sonnets Upon The Punishment of Death. These sonnets delve into topics as varied as the condemned's last walk toward the scaffold, to meditations on whether God would approve of capital punishment. Unlike many other writers from his time, including Dickens, Thackeray, and Tolstoy, Wordsworth opposed total abolition of the death penalty; his sonnets provide a rare, versed defense for this authority. More broadly, his sonnets offer a literary doorway to other writers' reflections on capital punishment, both from Wordsworth's contemporaries and more modern authors." (footnotes omitted)


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