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In the play "The Discovery" by Herman Ould most of the crew members are in defiance with captain Columbus. One of the sailors says "Santa Maria will be the lighter for his carcass"

What does the word lighter mean in this context. Santa Maria is the name of the ship.

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    We'd need to see the full context, but I doubt Vickel's interpretation. More likely, it just means that they'll kill him and throw the body overboard, and as a result the ship will be lighter (= less heavy). Jan 4, 2023 at 9:38
  • This use of the is archaic (at least in my dialect), persisting mainly in phrases of the form “the more the merrier”. Jan 6, 2023 at 4:11

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For context, I've found the quote on page 15 here.

From the surrounding dialogue and direction, I would agree with Daniel Roseman's comment. More modern English would not use the second instance of word "the", so it would read "The Santa Maria will be lighter for his carcass", with the word "for" implying "without". Apart from intentional ballast, ships would handle better with less cargo - the idea of the ship being lighter suggests an improvement.

Interestingly, some on line study guides have this being said by Guillermo Ires. I was unable to find that in the text. Instead, voices are heard - with his being prominent. Columbus asks what was said, and the quoted phrase was reported by Pepe as having been said by Ires. It's attributed to Ires, but it's Pepe who says the words.

Initially, I went the same way as Vickel. It's worth mentioning that a lighter was a smaller vessel used to transport cargo and crew between ships, or between ships and the shore. But it's unlikely that a vessel the size of the Santa Maria would be used for this purpose.

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“Santa Maria will be [the] lighter for his carcass” means “if he were dead [his body is a carcass], the burdens on the the ship would be lighter”.

Consider this headline expressing the opposite sentiment in similar words:

Coach Mike Leach passes away, and we are all the poorer for it.

Here the person did actually die, and we are worse off because of his death, but I think you can see the analogy.

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taking the context:

"Santa Maria will be the lighter for his carcass"

and the original question asks: "What does the word lighter mean in the context?", in my opinion the question is a bit misleading, as it should actually ask for the meaning of the lighter, not "lighter"

my thoughts:

  • the lighter, meaning less weight doesn't sound to me in this context. "Santa Maria will be lighter for his carcass" would eventually convince me, but it is not what it says.

  • then obviously the lighter could be interpreted that Santa Maria will serve as the fire ignition and just become a tool to set aflame Christopher Columbus' corps on it, once he's taken out. I doubt this is the correct interpretation since it would also mean certain death of most of the other (revolting) crew.

  • Since the lighter is also understood as a vessel which loads and unloads cargo (like, e.g. a carcass), the ship Santa Maria, after the killing of Christopher Columbus is becoming metaphorically the barge to deliver his dead body. Which I think is the meaning of "the lighter" in this context.

from Merriam Webster

lighter noun (1)
ligh·​ter ˈlī-tər 
a large usually flat-bottomed barge used especially in unloading or loading ships

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  • It's a good interpretation, and was what I thought at first. But unfortunately it doesn't fit the context of the play. Jan 4, 2023 at 12:13
  • In the play many a times the crew express their discontentment , anger and hate for Columbus. Can this statement be understood as the crew wants to kill him and have sigh of relief? And can an adjective 'lighter be preceded with article "The lighter" ? Jan 4, 2023 at 13:45

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