At ULM I’m teaching ENG 205, American Literature till 1865. This is the first time I’ve taught the course, and I’m both enjoying and learning more than I expected. One focal point in my studies (possibly perverse and indicative of serious personality and pathological problems) is my fascination with the Puritans. Maybe it’s my religious upbringing. Maybe it was the bad experiences I had as an adult with a certain religious group in New York City. Anyway, currently I’m attempting to help my students understand the mindset and world of the Puritans. For example, here are some notes on Puritan laws I’ll be presenting. If you teach Arthur Miller’s The Crucible in high school or college, you may want to use this list. The information was gleaned from a variety of sources.
Examples of Puritan Laws: (There are so many more, but these should give you insights into their thinking)
1. Beachcombing is illegal.
2.Hunting ducks is illegal. (If you’re a bad shot, they thought you would waste resources and time)
3. Drama/theatre, erotic poetry, and religious music, gambling, are banned. (Remember, these are the ones who closed down Shakespeare’s theatre.)
4. Any form of idleness or laziness. (Yawn . . . I’m sorry! I’m sorry!)
5. Swearing, sleeping during sermons, skipping church will be punished.
6. Long hair will not be tolerated. (Must be why the Cavalier Poets fought with Charles I. I would NOT like the Roundhead Puritan haircut! You can see a painting of a Roundhead here:
7. Gluttony is forbidden.
8. Religious instruction is required for all, as well as public fasting, austere living, and evening curfew. (According to one town’s records, a man was imprisoned for three days for smiling during a baptism.)
Entertainments, theaters, festivals, were banned and the Puritans prescribed the death penalty for sex outside of marriage. Lord Macaulay said the Puritans “hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.” The Puritans also opposed dancing, drinking, card playing, gambling, listening to certain types of music, reading novels or poetry, rolling dice, going to horse races, wearing jewelry and makeup, or having thoughts relating to sexual pleasure.
9.The celebration of Christmas was even forbidden in Massachusetts on pain of a five-shilling fine. In England, the Puritan Parliament “prohibited the observance of Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday, saints’ days and holy days.”
8. All work, play, brewing, and travel were forbidden on Sunday (which they called the Sabbath). There was even a debate on whether a man could be rescued from a well on that day. Folks were punished for picking strawberries, playing cards, smoking, and sailing. In 1670, a couple was brought to trial for “sitting together on the Lord’s Day under an apple tree.” Sex on Sunday was out of the question. This was particularly a problem for children born on Sunday, because Puritans believed that people were born on the same day on which they were conceived. Sunday-born children were sometimes denied baptism for this reason. A minister name Israel Loring was very strict in this regard until his own wife gave birth to twins on a Sunday.
Punishments for violating Puritan laws included fines, imprisonment, pillory, stocks, whipping, hanging, tar and feathering, ears being cut off, occasionally burning, and once in America, a man was drawn and quartered, ducking stool (reserved for women who gossip or ridicule their husbands) and humiliation (wearing letters indicating your crime etc.,) and even a hot awl through your tongue if you spoke against religion.
A Small Rant Against Puritanism
Existing Sunday Blue Laws are a hangover from those Puritan days. So is our government’s and society’s compulsion to create laws AGAINST everything. The mountain of laws we create in our effort to legislate morality is a control and power issue as well as a tax/fund-raising strategy. The ideas we promote of inflicting humiliation and increasingly more severe punishments are straight out of this dark Puritan mindset. Such thinking is just an excuse to justify cruelty against our fellow human beings. While we may not want a theocracy like the Puritans did, the Big Brother-ocracy of Big Government many want is just as bad a replacement. (Please read Orwell’s novel, 1984 if you haven’t.) Such a mindset was repulsive and ineffective then, and it will be today as well.
I Made the News!
Well, I somehow made the news again. Read about it here: