Puritan society laws

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Puritan society laws
Being placed in the stocks was among the most common Puritan public punishments. (colonial stocks image by jimcox40 from Fotolia.com)

The Puritan movement began to gather momentum in the 1600s, first in England, basing much of their legal and belief systems on Calvinism, which took hold in parts of Europe such as Geneva, and was a fundamentalist Christian movement. Many British Puritans moved to America, with the largest numbers settling in the New England region. Puritanism was a Christian movement that sought major reforms within the Christian church, wanting to rid both Catholicism and Protestantism of extravagance and ceremony, and wanting all aspects of life, including the government and the economy, to submit to the teachings of the Bible.

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Theatre and Entertainment

Puritan ideals claimed that pleasure was to be had in the afterlife, and that to achieve access to heaven and its wonders, people were not to take any pleasure from their mortal existence. Puritan society believed that the duty of man was only to glorify God. Participating in activities such as gambling, bear baiting, any activity involving unseemly public frivolity and attending theatrical performances was illegal in most Puritan-influenced areas. Austerity and solemnity were qualities enforced on the whole of society. Punishments varied from a five shilling fine to transgressors being placed in the stocks. In England, in 1642, the Puritans passed an act through parliament banning all stage plays in theatres. In 1644, Shakespeare's famous Globe Theater in London was demolished at the hands of the Puritans, and in 1688 all theatres were ordered to be demolished. The Puritans further ordered that all actors be arrested and whipped, and that anyone caught attending a performance was to be fined.

Sexual Transgressions

Puritans believed the human body and condition to be unclean, unholy and depraved. No pleasure was to be taken from sexual relations. Sex was merely a means of reproducing. Spouses displaying affection toward one another was considered lewd and unseemly. It is recorded that a Captain Kimble, after returning home from a three-year military tour, kissed his wife on the doorstep of their home and was promptly placed in the stocks for two hours as punishment. "Fornication," which meant intimate relations between unmarried people was heavily condemned, with a range of punishments from a large fine to a public whipping for both parties, or even execution for repeat offenders. Adultery was also punishable by death in many Puritan communities, although in more moderate areas, the punishment for adultery involved public humiliation via a public whipping and being forced to wear a large, scarlet letter "A," so that everyone was aware of the offence.

Compulsory Religion

Attendance at church on Sunday was mandatory, and anyone not in attendance risked a fine or, for repeat offences, time in the stocks or a public whipping. Citizens were not permitted to express negative opinions or to question anything relating to the Bible. Because Puritan society, law, economy and industry were based on perceived biblical attributes, a citizen was not permitted to speak against any of these elements, because he or she was then deemed to be indirectly criticising the Bible. The punishment for these crimes varied and included fines, whippings and executions.

Witchcraft

Puritans believed in witchcraft and believed that witches lived among them and worked against God for Satan. In both England and America, the Puritans were responsible for imprisoning and executing large numbers of "witches." Witch hunters often managed to obtain confessions from the accused. These confessions were obtained after merciless torture was inflicted upon the accused, such as during the Salem Witch Trials.

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