Novelette by Melville, was written during the five years before his death and published in 1924. The much revised manuscript, left without definitive form, was reissued in a very careful edition in 1962. A dramatization was made by Louis O. Coxe and Robert H. Chapman as Uniform of Flesh (1949), revised as Billy Budd (1951).
Billy Budd is the typical Handsome Sailor of 18th-century balladry, and because of his innocence and beauty is hated by Claggart, a dark, demon-haunted petty officer. In his simplicity, Billy cannot understand why Claggart should hate him, why evil should desire to destroy good. Claggart concocts a fantastic story of mutiny, supposedly plotted by Billy, whom he accuses to the captain. Billy, unable to speak, in his only act of rebellion strikes Claggart a fatal blow. Captain Vere, who sympathizes with Billy and recognizes his essential innocence, is nevertheless forced to condemn him, and though Billy is hanged he lives on as a legend among sailors.