Melville's dramatic presentation of the contradiction between the requirements of the law and the needs of humanity made the novella an "iconic text" in the field of law and literature . Earlier readers viewed Captain Vere as good man trapped by bad law. Richard Weisberg , who holds degrees in both comparative literature and law, argued that Vere was wrong to play the roles of witness, prosecutor, judge and executioner, and that he went beyond the law when he sentenced Billy to immediate hanging.  Based on his study of statutory law and practices in the Royal Navy in the era in which the book takes place, Weisberg argues that Vere deliberately distorted the applicable substantive and procedural law to bring about Billy's death.  Judge Richard Posner has sharply criticized these claims . He objects to ascribing literary significance to legal errors that are not part of the imagined world of Melville's fiction and accused Weisberg and others of calling Billy an "innocent man" and making light of the fact that he "struck a lethal blow to a superior officer in wartime." .