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2013-06-04 14:22  来源:   纠错

The Witchcraft Trials in Salem:A Commentary

Christian Martyr Who for Truth could die When all about thee Owned the hideous lie! The world, redeemed from superstition's sway, Is breathing freer for thy sake today.——Words written by John Greenleaf Whittier and inscribed on a monument marking the grave of Rebecca Nurse, one of the condemned witches of Salem.

From June through September of 1692, nineteen men and women, all having been convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill, a barren slope near Salem Village, for hanging. Another man of over eighty years was pressed to death under heavy stones for refusing to submit to a trial on witchcraft charges. Hundreds of others faced accusations of witchcraft. Dozens languished in jail for months without trials. Then, almost as soon as it had begun, the hysteria that swept through Puritan Massachusetts ended.

Why did this travesty of justice occur? Why did it occur in Salem? Nothing about this tragedy was inevitable. Only an unfortunate combination of an ongoing frontier war, economic conditions, congregational strife, teenage boredom, and personal jealousies can account for the spiraling accusations, trials, and executions that occurred in the spring and summer of 1692.

In 1688, John Putnam, one of the most influential elders of Salem Village, invited Samuel Parris, formerly a marginally successful planter and merchant in Barbados, to preach in the Village church. A year later, after negotiations over salary, inflation adjustments, and free firewood, Parris accepted the job as Village minister. He moved to Salem Village with his wife Elizabeth, his six-year-old daughter Betty, niece Abagail Williams, and his Indian slave Tituba, acquired by Parris in Barbados.

The Salem that became the new home of Parris was in the midst of change: a mercantile elite was beginning to develop, prominent people were becoming less willing to assume positions as town leaders, two clans (the Putnams and the Porters) were competing for control of the village and its pulpit, and a debate was raging over how independent Salem Village, tied more to the interior agricultural regions, should be from Salem, a center of sea trade.

Sometime during February of the exceptionally cold winter of 1692, young Betty Parris became strangely ill. She dashed about, dove under furniture, contorted in pain, and complained of fever. The cause of her symptoms may have been some combination of stress, asthma, guilt, child abuse, epilepsy, and delusional psychosis, but there were other theories.?Cotton Mather had recently published a popular book, Memorable Providences, describing the suspected witchcraft of an Irish washerwoman in Boston, and Betty's behavior in some ways mirrored that of the afflicted person described in Mather's widely read and discussed book. It was easy to believe in 1692 in Salem, with an Indian war raging less than seventy miles away (and many refugees from the war in the area) that the devil was close at hand. Sudden and violent death occupied minds.

Talk of witchcraft increased when other playmates of Betty, including eleven-year-old Ann Putnam, seventeen-year-old Mercy Lewis, and Mary Walcott, began to exhibit similar unusual behavior. When his own nostrums failed to effect a cure, William Griggs, a doctor called to examine the girls, suggested that the girls' problems might have a supernatural origin. The widespread belief that witches targeted children made the doctor's diagnosis seem increasing likely.

A neighbor, Mary Sibley, proposed a form of counter magic. She told Tituba to bake a rye cake with the urine of the afflicted victim and feed the cake to a dog. (Dogs were believed to be used by witches as agents to carry out their devilish commands.) By this time, suspicion had already begun to focus on Tituba, who had been known to tell the girls tales of omens, voodoo, and witchcraft from her native folklore. Her participation in the urine cake episode made her an even more obvious scapegoat for the inexplicable.

Meanwhile, the number of girls afflicted continued to grow, rising to seven with the addition of Ann Putnam, Elizabeth Hubbard, Susannah Sheldon, and Mary Warren. According to historian Peter Hoffer, the girls turned themselves from a circle of friends into a gang of juvenile delinquents. ( Many people of the period complained that young people lacked the piety and sense of purpose of the founders' generation.) The girls contorted into grotesque poses, fell down into frozen postures, and complained of biting and pinching sensations. In a village where everyone believed that the devil was real, close at hand, and acted in the real world, the suspected affliction of the girls became an obsession.

Sometime after February 25, when Tituba baked the witch cake, and February 29, when arrest warrants were issued against Tituba and two other women, Betty Parris and Abigail Williams named their afflictors and the witchhunt began. The consistency of the two girls' accusations suggests strongly that the girls worked out their stories together. Soon Ann Putnam and Mercy Lewis were also reporting seeing witches flying through the winter mist. The prominent Putnam family supported the girls' accusations, putting considerable impetus behind the prosecutions.

The first three to be accused of witchcraft were Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborn. Tituba was an obvious choice. Good was a beggar and social misfit who lived wherever someone would house her, and Osborn was old, quarrelsome, and had not attended church for over a year. The Putnams brought their complaint against the three women to county magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne, who scheduled examinations for the suspected witches for March 1, 1692 in Ingersoll's tavern. When hundreds showed up, the examinations were moved to the meeting house. At the examinations, the girls described attacks by the specters of the three women, and fell into their by then perfected pattern of contortions when in the presence of one of the suspects. Other villagers came forward to offer stories of cheese and butter mysteriously gone bad or animals born with deformities after visits by one of the suspects. The magistrates, in the common practice of the time, asked the same questions of each suspect over and over: Were they witches? Had they seen Satan? How, if they are were not witches, did they explain the contortions seemingly caused by their presence? The style and form of the questions indicates that the magistrates thought the women guilty.

The matter might have ended with admonishments were it not for Tituba. After first adamantly denying any guilt, afraid perhaps of being made a scapegoat, Tituba claimed that she was approached by a tall man from Boston——obviously Satan——who sometimes appeared as a dog or a hog and who asked her to sign in his book and to do his work. Yes, Tituba declared, she was a witch, and moreover she and four other witches, including Good and Osborn, had flown through the air on their poles. She had tried to run to Reverend Parris for counsel, she said, but the devil had blocked her path. Tituba's confession succeeded in transforming her from a possible scapegoat to a central figure in the expanding prosecutions. Her confession also served to silence most skeptics, and Parris and other local ministers began witch hunting with zeal.

Soon, according to their own reports, the spectral forms of other women began attacking the afflicted girls. Martha Corey, Rebecca Nurse, Sarah Cloyce, and Mary Easty were accused of witchcraft. During a March 20 church service, Ann Putnam suddenly shouted, Look where Goodwife Cloyce sits on the beam suckling her yellow bird between her fingers! Soon Ann's mother, Ann Putnam, Sr., would join the accusers. Dorcas Good, four-year-old daughter of Sarah Good, became the first child to be accused of witchcraft when three of the girls complained that they were bitten by the specter of Dorcas. (The four-year-old was arrested, kept in jail for eight months, watched her mother get carried off to the gallows, and would cry her heart out, and go insane.) The girls accusations and their ever more polished performances, including the new act of being struck dumb, played to large and believing audiences.

Stuck in jail with the damning testimony of the afflicted girls widely accepted, suspects began to see confession as a way to avoid the gallows. Deliverance Hobbs became the second witch to confess, admitting to pinching three of the girls at the Devil's command and flying on a pole to attend a witches' Sabbath in an open field. Jails approached capacity and the colony teetered on the brink of chaos when Governor Phips returned from England. Fast action, he decided, was required.

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