In Our Country’s Good, the very idea of public hangings represents the different ways in which people rule and govern. Captain Tench, for one, has no problem hanging convicts in the penal colony, since he believes that this is one of the only ways to convince criminals to follow rules. However, Governor Phillip is uncomfortable with turning violent punishment into a “spectacle,” preferring to use positivity—not fear—to encourage the convicts to change. Throughout the play, Phillip has to defend this viewpoint time and again. The fact that he constantly has to convince his colleagues that it’s best to avoid execution is an indication that people in positions of power are quick to assume that scaring subordinates is the only way to keep them in line. In this way, the practice of public execution—and all the consideration that goes into hanging someone—comes to symbolize the great burden of responsibility that leaders like Governor Phillip must learn how to navigate.
Public Hangings Quotes in Our Country’s Good
COLLINS. […] You have been made Governor-in-Chief of a paradise of birds, Arthur.
PHILLIP. And I hope not of a human hell, Davey. Don’t shoot yet, Watkin, let’s observe them. Could we not be more humane?
TENCH. Justice and humaneness have never gone hand in hand. The law is not a sentimental comedy.
PHILLIP. I am not suggesting they go without punishment. It is the spectacle of hanging I object to. The convicts will feel nothing has changed and will go back to their old ways.
TENCH. The convicts never left their old ways, Governor, nor do they intend to.
I commend your endeavour to oppose the baneful influence of vice with the harmonising acts of civilisation, Governor, but I suspect your edifice will collapse without the mortar of fear.
TENCH. It’s their favourite form of entertainment, I should say.
PHILLIP. Perhaps because they’ve never been offered anything else.
TENCH. Perhaps we should build an opera house for the convicts.
PHILLIP. We learned to love such things because they were offered to us when we were children or young men. Surely no one is born naturally cultured?
Do you know I saved her life? She was sentenced to be hanged at Newgate for stealing two candlesticks but I got her name put on the transport lists. But when I remind her of that she says she wouldn’t have cared.
When I say my prayers I have a terrible doubt. How can I be sure God is forgiving me? What if he will forgive me, but hasn’t forgiven me yet? That’s why I don’t want to die, Sir. That’s why I can’t die. Not until I am sure. Are you sure?
PHILLIP. Liz Morden—(He pauses.) I had a reason for asking you to cast her as Melinda. Morden is one of the most difficult women in the colony.
RALPH. She is indeed, Sir.
PHILLIP. Lower than a slave, full of loathing, foul mouthed, desperate.
RALPH. Exactly, Sir. And violent.
PHILLIP. Quite. To be made an example of.
RALPH. By hanging?
PHILLIP. No, Lieutenant, by redemption.