Crime and Punishment Essay
Crime and Punishment
The saying that crime does not pay lies at the heart of a great deal of literature and many films. It appears in a large number of fairy tales and childrens story. This is to teach children from an early age that it is wrong to commit a crime, no matter how small, and that every criminal is eventually punished. Of course this is not true, many crimes, especially smaller crimes, are never punished. This can either be because no one has discovered a crime was committed or because there was no punishment fit for the criminal. For instance, because the criminal wasnt conscious of committing the crime (mentally retarded, been drugged etc), because he is a minor and has a clean record or even because he is dying or deceased. However the criminal can be punished by other members of society as well and/or instead of by law.
This would be in the form of revenge. Then there is self-inflicted punishment. Criminals often feel guilty and this can drive them to depression, sometimes leading them to inflict physical pain on themselves or to commit suicide. If the criminal is Christian or Moslem, he will also have to endure the thought of going to Hell. If the criminal is Hindu or Buddhist, he will know he is destroying his chance for a good rebirth, dirtying and ruining his karma, which will cause him to suffer for lifetimes to come. Criminal acts might in the short run satisfy them or fill their pockets, will in the long run, from a spiritual perspective, hurt the criminal. Indeed, in the long term, and from the moral and ethical, psychological and spiritual points of view, it appears to be almost always true that “Crime does not pay.” Literature often portrays reality; therefore this moral is present a great deal.
Examples of crimes that are punished more by psychological means appear in The Millers Tale in Geoffrey Chaucers The Canterbury Tales. This was written before the 15th Century yet it already refers to crimes that were not punished by law but indirectly by the general public. This tale is of a rich carpenter, his newly wed young wife, Alison, and his lodger. The carpenter is an old, jealous man who doesnt give his wife any freedom for the fear she will cheat on him. The lodger, Nicholas, is always after women and he soon flirts with the beautiful Alison. She soon falls in love with him and they decide to trick the carpenter so they can sleep together. Nicholas, who is fascinated by astrology, tells the carpenter that by studying the moon he found out that in an hour there will be a great flood and the world will be drowned. The carpenter, who is sworn to secrecy, believes him and obeys his orders. He hangs up three kneading-troughs in the attic which are to be used as boats and at night the three of them get in their boats. The carpenter falls in a deep sleep after all his work so he doesnt know the two lovers have secretly gone downstairs to bed.
However Absalon, a young parish clerk who is in love with the carpenters wife, hears that the carpenter hasnt been to work since Saturday. He uses this as an opportunity to tell Alison, through the bedroom window, of his love for her. After being told to leave, he agrees on the condition that she gives him one kiss. She consents but tricks him and he comes to learn that he has kissed a completely different part of her body. To take revenge, Absalon comes back with a hot iron and tells Alison he wants to give her a golden ring in exchange for another kiss. This time its Nicholass bottom that appears out of the window and is subsequently branded with the hot iron. His screaming awakens the carpenter who thinks the flood has started and cuts the rope tied to his tub. The boat falls and the carpenter breaks an arm and starts screaming that the world is flooding. Nicholas and Alison use this occasion to make him out as mad and for the rest of his life, nothing the carpenter says will change this in the eyes of the public. He is treated as a reject but his wife is also mocked for being married to him.
Notice that ever single character is punished by some means. The carpenter is mocked and cannot ever live a normal life again. He is forced to live with wife who betrayed him and will forever be considered a madman. It is clearly shown on page 106, that no one believed the carpenter: No matter what the carpenter asserted it went for nothing, no one was converted. He also has a broken arm and many bruises. His wife is also teased for living with him and has to endure the guilt of her criminal actions and their consequences. Nicholas is also humiliated and he is branded for life. Absalons punishment was being tricked into kissing Alisons bottom. He has to live with the shame of this and that he was rejected by Alison.
The characters mentioned above all committed a crime: Alison committed adultery, Nicholas deliberately made Alison cheat on her husband and Absalon also tried but failed. Nicholas and Alison furthermore lied to Absalon and the carpenter. They lied to the whole neighbourhood saying the latter was mad. Lying is not a crime that can be punished by law but it is still wrong. In Christianity and many other religions, it is thought of as a sin. It is to be debated whether Absalon also committed another crime: branding Nicholas with a hot iron. In doing this, Absalon was taking revenge for a crime that had been committed against him; a crime that would not be grave enough to be punished by law.
By chance, Absalon was taking revenge on a character who had also committed other crimes. For this reason, the author might have excused Absalons drastic action against Nicholas and therefore given him the lightest punishment. According to the Chaucer, the carpenters crime was to marry a much younger and very beautiful young woman and then to forbid her of her freedom. He did not think of her feelings. Chaucer quotes at the bottom of page 89:A man should marry someone like himself; A man should pick an equal for his mate.
Youth and old age are often in debate.
However, he had fallen in the snare, And had to bear his cross as others bare.Here Chaucer already predicts that Alison is going to cheat on her husband. The carpenter fell in the trap and now he has to bear the consequences. Indeed, all the characters mentioned above committed a crime and quickly learnt that crime does not pay. They were all psychologically and often also physically punished.
I wanted to see if the quote crime does not pay also applies in The shipmans tale. This tale tells of a kind, generous merchant who was married to a beautiful woman. This merchant was on very good terms with a monk, Sir John, and invited him to stay for dinner, some days before he was to leave on business. The monk stayed with them for a few days but one morning when he was speaking to Sir Johns wife, she poured out all her sorrows to him. She told him she wished she were dead and that she had no respect for her husband, she hated him, because he neglected her. She then asked the monk for a hundred francs so she could look smart and do my husband honour (page 162). The monk promised to lend her the money. However, he then privately asked the merchant for the same amount using the reason that he wanted to buy some cattle.
The merchant lent it to him and swore not to reveal the monks debt. When the merchant left, Sir John visited the wife and gave her the money in exchange for her keeping him company at night. The merchant then came back and asked the monk for his money but learnt from him that the money had already been returned to his wife. The merchant felt he had been rude and reprimanded his wife for not telling him the debt had been paid. His wife then explained the situation, cursed the monk for having broken his promise and told her husband she needed the money because he didnt supply her with enough. She asked for forgiveness. Her husband forgave her but asked her not to be so extravagant again (page 168).
The obvious crimes here are adultery and breaking a promise. Both the merchants wife and Sir John are guilty of this. It is possible but unlikely, that the merchant committed the crime of not caring for his wife properly. The merchant is described as generous and though he might not always be at home with his wife, this is because he is earning money to support his wife and himself. However, he has the worst deal at the end of the tale: he loses hundred francs. The wifes punishment is that her secret is found out and she is shamed in front of her husband. It is not a heavy punishment but then she only cheated on her husband once. In addition, she has to live with the guilt of what she has done. Maybe she even has to sacrifice something in exchange for spending her husbands money on herself. Sir Johns only punishment is that he is now not regarded in the same light as before. He is also insulted by the merchants wife, but it is debatable whether this is a punishment as he did not have the humiliation of hearing himself be insulted.
I think it is difficult to decide whether this moral also applies for The Shipmans tale. It depends who one thinks is guilty of committing a crime. The husband has learnt his lesson: to watch over his wife more closely. The wife learns she has done a foolish thing and will hopefully, for the merchant, now live a better life. However, not much ill seems to befall the monk. Of course, we could argue that he was only trying to help the merchant and his wife. He went too far in cheating on the merchant but he will presumably feel the consequences: his relationship with the merchant and his wife will not be the same again. Therefore, I think the moral also applies for this tale, but it is not as obvious.
I believe the moral that crime does not pay is present not only lies at the heart of a great deal of literature, but also in many films, comics and stories told by mouth. This is important as nowadays people no longer act morally only because they are afraid of God or of hell. Today, atheists are tolerated and many who are religious do not believe every word in the Bible, they no longer fear the word hell. Therefore, to keep society working peacefully, one needs to teach people to be morally good and to teach them that if they dont, they will be punished. Often, one is not punished for doing something morally wrong. This fact is often hidden, to encourage people to commit fewer or no crimes because they believe every crime will have a bad consequence. People, especially children, are taught this, often indirectly, through reading, watching films and hearing about personal experiences where the criminal eventually paid for his crime.