The Fergusonia File

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Trotter Term Paper Proposal

Salutations, Comrades!
Here is my proposal for the term paper. I was a little unclear as to the level of research we were to include, so I stuck mostly to hammering out an interesting argument. I made a cursory perusal of LION to see if anyone had written extensively on this topic, and I concluded that my paper would be at least somewhat fresh. It took me a long time to arrive at a new angle; thinking this week has been like pulling teeth.

Catharine Trotter’s Love at a Loss; or, Most Votes Carry It (1700) is a play very much concerned with ideas of justice and correction, yet comparatively little critical attention has been paid to these concepts. While it is true that the majority of literary works employ some type of transgressive behaviour to propel the plot, Trotter’s famed engagement with issues of morality and agency in her philosophical writings justifies a closer look at the mechanics of justice in her sole comedy. Anne Kelley contends that the keynote of Trotter’s moral argumentation is the privileging of principled rationality in the government of human affairs. Kelley notes with specific reference to Love at a Loss, that in cases of contention between personal volition and public good, Trotter invariably privileges the latter. Kelley reads Love at a Loss as a qualified “endorsement of the existing social order,” and especially the individual’s “social obligation to honour contractual agreement” (92).

The concepts of revenge, retribution and justice in general are thus linked to social codes of behaviour in the text, but not in a way that neatly conforms to Trotter’s stated philosophical views. Of the two general modes of justice portrayed in the play—the personal and the communal—the personal is superior, if we take the definition of effective justice to be the matching of crime to punishment with correction as the desired end. By drawing on Trotter’s own philosophical writings (especially her Defence of the Essay of Human Understanding) and Hobbes’s Leviathan, with which Trotter contended, I will challenge the reading of Love at a Loss that claims its complete endorsement of communal justice. In terms of the correction and prevention of crime (or sin), the personal model, largely embodied in Lucilia, emerges as more effective than the communal. This fact undermines the model of communal morality proffered by Trotter, and aligns the play more with Hobbesian philosophy, in which the individual first considers his or her own judgment. The final vote scene forces the reader to re-examine the basis of communal justice, to see that communal justice is only as just as the members of the collective tribunal.

1 Comments:

Blogger Andrea said...

Your abstract seems very well thought out. I especially like your point that "Of the two general modes of justice portrayed in the play—the personal and the communal—the personal is superior, if we take the definition of effective justice to be the matching of crime to punishment with correction as the desired end." Will you be bringing contemporary moral theory (other than that of Hobbes)- especially on the subject of the social contract - into the essay?

12:09 PM  

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