Essay on Law and Morality in Literature

Essay on Law and Morality in Literature

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Behavioral conduct is regulated through two different avenues: law and morality. Morality is defined as the “rules of behavior an individual or a group may follow out of personal conscience and that are not necessarily part of legislated law” (Encyclopedia of American Law). Morality channels our behavior through a system of incentives; bad acts produce “… guilt and disapprobation, and good acts result in virtuous feelings and praise” (Shavell 228). Law, on the other hand, is concerned with justice and is upheld through “… the threat of sanctions if we disobey legal rules” (Shavell 227). The point of contention occurs when individuals incorrectly assume that a just decision necessitates morality. These individuals dispute the scope of authority that either morality or law should encompass. Morality and law do not operate in different spheres; instead, the laws are created with a primary focus towards persuading individuals to make moral decisions. In both A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt and the Greek play Antigone by Sophocles, difficulty ensues not because law and morality are actually conflicting, but because the individuals interpreting law and morality have varying interpretations.
The authors present the dichotomy between law and morality through a system of contrasts. Sir Thomas More and Antigone both place their faith in a higher power while King Henry VIII and Creon trust in their own man-made laws. Because their views conflict with those in power, Antigone and Sir Thomas More are both sentenced to death. Although their punishments may seem unfair, in both pieces of literature the characters are opposing the law. Creon and King Henry VIII are thereby acting in accordance with their laws and, although their ...


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...as it is primarily their failure as rulers that is highlighted.
The incongruity between law and morality is fostered by an individual’s interpretation of the law and its purpose. The conflict in both A Man for All Seasons and Antigone is not a conflict between morality and law, but in the characters’ use of morality and law. Because of this, the decisions that both Creon and King Henry VIII make to sentence Antigone and Thomas More are justified. Each protagonist was making decisions that were in conflict, but were still moral. In writing the plays, they authors implied that one version of morality, that of Antigone and Sir Thomas More, was more acceptable than the other. However, this is not the case since the decisions of King Henry and Creon were also couched in morality and were being made with regards to the good of the individuals under their command.

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