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The Ideas Of Justice, Law And Morality In The Tempest, Republic And Medea

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Throughout time, there have been many different controversial ideas debated throughout different writings. Today, I am discussing the ideas of justice, law and morality as they are discussed within The Tempest by William Shakespeare, Republic by Plato, and Medea by Euripides. These three ideas can all be connected with each other. Justice is not as widely discussed in Medea, but it is the main focus in The Tempest and Republic, while the other 2 ideas connect to it. With the idea of justice or injustice we are thinking about whether or not people are being treated in a just and fair way regarding their own actions. Law plays into overall justice as that will almost always make the decision to decide someone’s fate, which questions the idea of whether or not their punishment was just and fair. Morality brings into question what exactly should be considered right and wrong decisions along with good and bad behavior. These three texts all bring into question these themes of justice, law and morality which are all extremely relevant topics in our world today, and not having a clear understanding of different viewpoints throughout these ideas will risk our society being unfit to handle our own issues of injustice.

William Shakespeare’s The Tempest focuses primarily on the theme of justice, as it showed multiple examples of injustice done in multiple scenarios throughout the story with different characters. A large portion of this story focuses on how Prospero is fighting to regain justice and earn back his power after being unjustly usurped by his brother and forced to retreat to an island. His views on justice often seem hypocritical, as he seems to skew all of his views to what is most beneficial for himself. He believes that he is the highest power on the island, and his word is the law. An example of injustice being done in this story came when Prospero said, while talking to Miranda, “Both, both, my girl. By foul play, as thou sayst, were we heaved thence, But blessedly holp hither” (Shakespeare 17). This shows Prospero claiming that they were unjustly pushed out of power even though they lawfully should not have been, but they were still blessed to be pushed towards the island they are now at. This is a great example of how Prospero seemingly was being treated unfairly, at least according to him, especially as it may have been unlawful and not morally right. Prospero started the issues on the island, but later serves his own idea of what justice and law should be as he forgives those who have wronged him and freed his slaves. But this was misleading, as it makes it appear that justice is being served for everyone who was wronged, but Prospero is strictly benefiting from everything he does as he returns to his Dukedom, making it seem that justice was not served at all for Prospero considering all the morally wrongful acts he committed to others. While talking to Trinculo later in the play, Stephano states that “He that dies pays all debts” (Shakespeare 107). This means that based on your morally wrong actions you will always get what you deserve through justice, but again that did not seem to be the case for Prospero as he seemingly was not served justice whatsoever, making it appear that justice was seemingly an illusion in this story, and not served as was expected.

The idea of Justice with the relating ideas of morality and law are conveyed differently in Plato’s Republic, primarily through the view of Socrates. A great deal of this story discusses the idea of how the soul includes three elements, being rational, appetitive and spirited. Plato argues that personal justice can be achieved by maintaining a balance between the three, while specifically limiting the appetitive element and favoriting the rational element. He specifically favors this when discussing what is a just man because that focuses not on what he considers unnecessary desires but what is most beneficial for society, and helps make sensible decisions that are not based on personal desires. For any individual to be just they must almost completely limit their appetitive element to be a just and moral individual, while almost entirely thinking with their rational element. These thoughts lead into his views of a just and ideal society, where when talking about an ideal society with Adeimantus, Socrates says that “The result, then, is that more plentiful and better-quality goods are more easily produced, if each person does one thing for which he is naturally suited and does it at the opportune moment, because his time is freed from all the others” (Plato 48). Within this he argues that each different part of a society must perform and specialize in a particular function to be just, and everyone must accept their role based on their natural aptitude. Also, by saying he should be doing it when his time is freed from others is related to the idea of avoiding the appetitive element to help be a just individual. Later, Socrates continues these arguments by saying “or when one of the soldiers who is unworthy to do so tries to enter that of a judge and guardian, and these exchange their tools and honors; or when the same person tries to do all these things at once, then I imagine you will agree that these exchanges and this meddling destroy the city” (Plato 120). Glaucon agrees with this, again showing how if somebody were to attempt to contribute to society by doing a profession outside of their natural aptitude it is bound to diminish it and contribute to an unjust society. Plato dove deeper into the idea of law by discussing his views on different forms of government, and gave his opinion on the superior form. The four different forms he critiqued were a Timocracy, Oligarchy, Democracy and Tyranny. He believes that each of them are severely flawed, and each will always fail and end up transitioning to another, and emphasizes that none of these systems are fit for a just society. He does not dive into the characteristics, but he believes an Aristocracy to be a superior form of government that would result in a just society if ran correctly, but it likely would still have chaos within it which would lead to it also transition to a different form of government, and therefore resulting in an unjust society as well. Plato certainly had his own unique views of how justice should be assumed, as well as overall morality and lawful ideas pertaining to different governmental forms, as he believed that overall justice was seemingly unattainable because of our appetitive appetites, which would never allow us to have a just society.

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Euripides Medea refers to the idea of justice but also takes a more focused stance on morality than the other 2 pieces discussed. Generally, justice is used for attempts to better society, but in Medea it is connected with revenge, as Medea feels like her husband’s actions towards her were unjust, so she feels justified in taking her revenge out on him, but most people would agree that the revenge she took was a severely unjust way to handle the situation, as it involved killing her own children as a means of it after her husband abandons her. She wants this not only to get revenge, but also because she believes it is what is best for her children, as she says “I’ll request my children may stay here – not that I wish to leave them in a hostile land for enemies to foully treat my children no, but so that I can kill the princess by deception. I’ll send them carrying presents for her in their hands, to take them to the bride so as not to have to leave this land: a finespun dress and plaited wreath of beaten gold. If she accepts and puts the finery next to her skin, she will die horribly, and so will anyone who ever comes in contact with the girl – such as the poisons that I’ll smear upon the gifts. But now I’ll leave that part of the story. I grieve for the deed that I must do then: that I must kill my sons” (Euripides 106). Even though her primary reason for killing her sons is for efforts of revenge towards Jason, she is now saying that if she does not do this to them the town people will do it anyway, so by killing them she is saving them from a more cruel death or other possible tragedies, giving her more reason to believe that her actions were justified. She originally believed that the words of the chorus supported her to enact her revenge in this way, but chorus later tells her not to do this revengeful act, but Medea responds by saying “There’s no alternative. It’s understandable you talk like this when you have not been made to suffer wrong like me” (Euripides 107). They then continue talking and Medea assures she is doing this because it will be the greatest revenge she can take on her husband. Euripides using Medea as an example shows us his opinion that humans are not fully capable of understanding how justice should be interpreted and used. In addition to the ideas of justice, her actions also brought into question the idea of morals, and what specifically should be considered a right or wrong decision. It seems nearly impossible trying to argue that you are making the right decision by killing your children, but if she is correct in thinking that she is saving them from a much more severe death or experience than the possibility must be considered that her actions were morally justified, even if it is not what traditional moral beliefs or law would approve of.

It appeared throughout the three texts that justice was a very prevalent idea, but morality and law were still apparent in each. In The Tempest, Shakespeare makes justice seem somewhat imaginary, because not everyone who truly deserves justice receives it. Justice was served for some, but it was not with Prospero as he was never truly punished for the detriment he caused towards others making justice seem somewhat of an illusion in the story. In Republic Plato gives his idea for how justice can be achieved on multiple fronts, but argued that it can never happen. On a personal level this is because of our appetites and unnecessary desires, and says that no person can be just without avoiding these, but not enough people can manage to. Along with that he gives his views on justice in society, again claiming that it is unattainable. According to him this is because there is only one system of government that brings true justice, being an aristocracy, but even an aristocracy can never be sustainable, so the system would never last and the society will again become unjust. Justice within Medea is much harder for humans to accept, considering how it plays into the ideas of revenge. It is most difficult to accept simply because of the fact that the revenge that Medea took considering it included murdering her own children. This makes Euripides idea of injustice especially hard to understand, because it involved something that nearly nobody in society would ever deem appropriate. Each piece clearly had their own views on justice whether it is just in society or personal as well. Morality was also considered in each piece, but it appears that the author in each wants us to determine if the characters actions were morally acceptable. In Medea I feel most people would argue that her actions were not morally okay, but in the other pieces good arguments could be made from both sides, as there is not any clear justification of the actions done in either story. Law was something that was touched on in the three different series, but not as emphasized as justice and morals were. In Republic, Plato gave his lawful opinions on the most supreme government form, saying how things should be run to create the best society. Law is not strongly emphasized in Medea, as she was never clearly punished for her actions, and in The Tempest Law is not heavily relied on, aside from Prospero’s beliefs that his word is the law of the land.

Each of these texts can both teach us ways that people may have often thought back when these were written, but also give us lessons to consider when discussing these themes in today’s society. Going off what was mentioned before, Medea would be the least likely book for us to learn something from. I, like many people would not be able to accept the idea of murdering one’s own children, and could never consider Medea’s point of view because of it. I do believe we can take valuable lessons regarding justice from both The Tempest as well as Republic, but different lessons because their thoughts are drastically different. For The Tempest, I believe it relates well to the issue we have today of whether or not people are being punished fairly, and receiving their justice. This is because in the story it nearly seems like everyone who was treated wrong was made right in the end, aside from one person mostly, being the person who caused most of the issues, which should help us realize that in any situation, primarily ones involving criminals, we need to be sure that everyone is receiving the necessary punishment. This is a big problem because of the many times today that people commit horrible offenses, but somehow are let off with an easier punishment than others for doing the same crime. Also, Republic can give us another lense to look through when discussing politics, one of the worlds most debated topics. Our system of government is not often what is debated, as that is usually done for the candidates in the system, but that can be a problem. I believe change should always be considered for such substantial topics, and our country seems to never think about whether or not democracy is the best system for us, and we never even debate modifying it, but Republic gives us an example of different government systems, with positives and negatives. Even if you may not entirely agree with another system, it would still be helpful for others to consider Plato’s ideas in order to get new ideas about ways we can at least simply improve our government, or at least discuss the possibility for the better. The three pieces I talked about today certainly all have different views on the vital ideas of justice, law and morality, and reading each will help us expand our understanding through different viewpoints to avoid having a society unfit to handle the frequent issues of injustice.

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The Ideas Of Justice, Law And Morality In The Tempest, Republic And Medea. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from
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