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Seeing Justice DoneThe Age of Spectacular Capital Punishment in France$
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Paul Friedland

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199592692

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199592692.001.0001

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From Ritual to Spectacle

From Ritual to Spectacle

The Rise of the Penal Voyeur in Early Modern France

(p.119) 5From Ritual to Spectacle
Seeing Justice Done

Paul Friedland

Oxford University Press

Through the beginning of the sixteenth century, executions often attracted large crowds of people who saw themselves as full participants in a ritual with profound spiritual meaning. With the first executions of Lutheran heretics, however, who refused to play the traditional role of the remorseful penitent but instead went to the scaffold joyously, crowds of spectators began to attend executions as a spectacular novelty. From the middle of the sixteenth century onward, wealthier segments of the population began viewing executions as a form of novel entertainment, renting windows overlooking the scaffold. By the seventeenth century, the upper classes had developed a fascination with criminality, which they satisfied through the reading of scandalously realistic true-crime novels as well as through a growing taste for witnessing real criminals be put to death in spectacles of public execution.

Keywords:   ritual, spectacle, crowds, heretics, scaffold, criminality, true-crime novels, penitence

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