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This remarkable story and play by Herman Melville again uses the sailor's life as its setting. Here, however, instead of a whale as the antagonist, the unquestionable rule of law is the "beast" attacking human desires. Billy Budd is a good person in every respect; yet, according to the immutable laws of the sea (a microcosm of all society), Capt. Vere is right in condemning Budd. This is what Vere is referring to in this quotation. He is underlining his belief that "form" supercedes "substance", that human compassion is not sufficient excuse to break the "formal" structure, a structure that is the underpinning of a civilized society (and certainly a necessity in the tightly closed, and inescapable "society" of a ship at sea). An interesting side character is Dansker, who, being Danish, represents the universality of social order.
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