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Captain Bligh and the mutiny on the Bounty have become proverbial in their capacity to evoke the extravagant and violent abuse of power. But William Bligh was one of the least violent disciplinarians in the British navy. It is this paradox which inspired Greg Dening to ask why the mutiny took place. His book explores the theatrical nature of what was enacted in the power-play on deck, on the beaches at Tahiti and in the murderous settlement at Pitcairn, on the altar stones and temples of sacrifice, and on the catheads from which men were hanged. Part of the key lies in the curious puzzle of Mr Bligh's bad language.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780521467186
ISBN-10: 0521467187
Format: Paperback
(216mm x 138mm x 26mm)
Pages: 460
Imprint: Cambridge University Press
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publish Date: 25-Mar-1994
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


UK Kirkus Review » The very phrase 'The Mutiny on the Bounty' is still a potent one, bringing up visions of the several films made of that extraordinary account: especially of Mr Blight, the ship's brutal commander. Or was he especially brutal? This book is probably the most thorough account we are ever likely to have of the people and events on the Bounty, and the beaches of Tahiti. The book's subtitle is 'passion, power and theatre on the Bounty', and there are all these in plenty. No-one emerges a hero, but the mistakes and miscalculations which comprised the major nautical melodrama of the 18th century. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » A learned, humane, provocative "creative reading" of the mutiny on the Bounty - the events; their meaning and representation in native lore, British life, the theater, and cinema; and their historical value. An engaging style and familiarity with political, naval, theater and film history, with anthropology, and with thinkers such as Foucault, Barthes, and Levi-Strauss enrich this "celebratory narrative," as Dening (History/Univ. of Melbourne) calls it. The story is familiar but, Dening says, the emphasis, meaning, explanation, and value change depending on the point of view, the period, culture, and medium in which one represents the character of Bligh (a perfectionist who preferred to avoid physical punishment) and the sailors; the idea of discipline in the navy; the participants' various expectations; the natives they encountered; the brutality and brutalization, abandonment and retribution; and the survivors' colony on Pitcairn Island. In the theatrical terms Dening employs, the mutiny becomes an enactment of roles, a ritual representing universal experiences of sacrifice, deification, resurrection, possession, encounters between natives and strangers, and the ranging iconography of power as it appears among natives and seamen. Dening's "cliometrics" (the statistics on corporeal punishment in the navy); his discussions of Jonas Hanway, of Captain Cook's adventures among the Polynesians, of the British popular theater, of the five films based on the Bounty (including the moral one in the 30's, the political one in the 60's, and the psychological one in the 80's); the encyclopedic knowledge he brings - all add conviction to his imaginative interpretations and demonstrate his proposition that "history is something we make rather than something we learn." A fascinating, essential chapter in the history of the Bounty. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Books By Author Greg Dening

Mr Bligh's Bad Language by Greg Dening

Mr Bligh's Bad Language

Hardback, June 1992