Notes on Objects & Places from Billy Budd

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Billy Budd Objects/Places

Handsome sailor: Term used by Melville for a sailor of Billy’s type. The Handsome sailor is not only good looking, but he is articulate and talented. He can hunt and fish and hold his own in a fight. He is a leader of his companions. This type of sailor began to disappear with the advent of the steamship.

H.M.A. Bellipotent 74: The naval ship to which Billy is transferred upon his enlistment in the navy. The Bellipotent is larger than a frigate and captained by a stern and experienced leader.

Rights-of-Man: The merchant ship from which Billy was transferred to the Bellipotent. On the Rights-of-Man he enjoyed extreme popularity with the crew and the captain.

Nore Mutiny: A mutiny where the sailors, inspired by the French Revolution, overthrew their officers and tried to make negotiations for better treatment. This resulted in new recruits and the marines being called up. The mutiny was put down, but it left a lasting scar on officers and sailors alike.

Theseus: Ship piloted by Admiral Nelson. Also the mythical Athenian figure who navigated the labyrinth with the help of Ariadne and killed the minotaur.

Master-at-Arms: The position on the Bellipotent held by John Claggart. This position used to be held by an officer who would instruct men in the use of swords. With the advent of firearms, however, it became more a mission of policing the sailors.

Guineas: The largest denomination of English money. At this time and especially on the sea, two gold guineas would be very hard to find.

Frigates: Small and faster naval ships.

Mutiny: When a crew rebels against their captain and takes control of the ship. The fear is omnipresent for the officers in this story. Mutinies have happened twice in the British navy right before the time of this story.

Drumhead court: An informal naval court at sea. When a crime is committed, the Captain selects senior officers to try the criminal and set a sentence.

Athee: (The Atheist) The French ship that the Bellipotent runs into at the end of the story. This encounter results in the death of Captain Vere.

Agamemnon: The ship on which the Dansker served with Admiral Nelson.

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