Our Country’s Good

by

Timberlake Wertenbaker

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Public Hangings Symbol Analysis

Public Hangings Symbol Icon

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

The Our Country’s Good quotes below all refer to the symbol of Public Hangings. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
).
Act One, Scene Three Quotes

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.

Related Symbols: Public Hangings
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

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.

Related Symbols: Public Hangings
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

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?

Related Characters: Captain Arthur Phillip (Governor Phillip) (speaker), Captain Watkin Tench (speaker)
Related Symbols: Public Hangings
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
Act One, Scene Four Quotes

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.

Related Symbols: Public Hangings
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
Act One, Scene Nine Quotes

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?

Related Symbols: Public Hangings
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
Act Two, Scene Two Quotes

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.

Related Symbols: Public Hangings
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:
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Public Hangings Symbol Timeline in Our Country’s Good

The timeline below shows where the symbol Public Hangings appears in Our Country’s Good. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act One, Scene Three
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Governance and Justice Theme Icon
...Collins points out that the convicts are guilty and thus deserve to be here. “But hanging?” Phillip asks, and Collins assures him that only three of the convicts will be hanged,... (full context)
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Governance and Justice Theme Icon
...Phillip clarifies that he doesn’t think the convicts shouldn’t be punished, but simply that public hangings are rather perverse, since they become “spectacle[s].” To that end, he fears the criminals will... (full context)
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
Governance and Justice Theme Icon
...asks Harry what he thinks, the midshipman tells him that the criminals “laugh at the hangings,” since they’re so used to seeing them. Agreeing, Tench says that public executions are the... (full context)
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Governance and Justice Theme Icon
Turning his attention to the upcoming hanging, Phillip asks Harry to tell him the names of the convicts sentenced to death. First,... (full context)
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
Governance and Justice Theme Icon
Guilt, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Wrapping up their discussion, Tench says that the hanging should take place as quickly as possible. “It’s their theatre, Governor, you cannot change that,”... (full context)
Act One, Scene Four
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Love, Sex, and Power Theme Icon
Guilt, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Changing the subject, Harry says that he saw Handy Baker the night before. “You hanged him... (full context)
Act One, Scene Eight
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
...the women continue to berate him, as Liz suggests that she’d kill herself before ever hanging one of her fellow convicts. (full context)
Act One, Scene Nine
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
Guilt, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...the plan. He tells Ralph that he was given a chance after getting caught to “hang or be hanged.” “What would you do? Someone has to do it,” he says, attempting... (full context)
Act One, Scene Eleven
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
...be tried for stealing from the stores,” he declares. “You know the punishment? Death by hanging.” With this, he turns to leave, and Campbell—who is exceedingly drunk—mumbles that The Recruiting Officer... (full context)
Act Two, Scene Two
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
...be reformed. As such, he doesn’t want to make an example out of her by hanging her, but by allowing others to witness her “redemption.” Considering this idea, Ralph suggests that... (full context)
Act Two, Scene Six
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Guilt, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Later, Harry summons Ketch to take Liz’s measurements in preparation for her hanging the next day. Apologetically, Ketch tries to measure Liz, saying all the while how much... (full context)
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Governance and Justice Theme Icon
Guilt, Regret, and Forgiveness Theme Icon
After measuring Liz, Ketch apologizes again, telling her that if he doesn’t hang her, someone else will. At least, he says, he can make sure that she feels... (full context)
Act Two, Scene Ten
Punishment and Rehabilitation Theme Icon
Governance and Justice Theme Icon
...an account of what Liz said to Harry when she was getting measured for her hanging, Collins notes that his testimony didn’t do much in the trial because Liz “wouldn’t confirm... (full context)
Act Two, Scene Eleven
Theater, Liberation, and Unity Theme Icon
...are thousands of miles away,” he says. He then threatens Caesar by saying that he’ll hang him if he doesn’t act, and Caesar finally “pulls himself together.” Having heard this reference... (full context)