From the early Middle Ages to the twentieth century, capital punishment in France, as in many other countries, was staged before large crowds of spectators. Paul Friedland traces the theory and practice of public executions over time, both from the perspective of those who staged these punishments as well as from the vantage point of the many thousands who came to 'see justice done'. While penal theorists often stressed that the fundamental purpose of public
punishment was to strike fear in the hearts of spectators, the eagerness with which crowds flocked to executions, and the extent to which spectators actually enjoyed the spectacle of suffering suggests that there was a wide gulf between theoretical intentions and actual experiences. Moreover, public
executions of animals, effigies, and corpses point to an enduring ritual function that had little to do with exemplary deterrence. In the eighteenth century, when a revolution in sensibilities made it unseemly for individuals to take pleasure in or even witness the suffering of others, capital punishment became the target of reformers. From the invention of the guillotine, which reduced the moment of death to the blink of an eye, to the 1939 decree which moved executions behind prison walls,
capital punishment in France was systematically stripped of its spectacular elements.
Partly a history of penal theory, partly an anthropologically-inspired study of the penal ritual, Seeing Justice Done traces the historical roots of modern capital punishment, and sheds light on the fundamental 'disconnect' between the theory and practice of punishment which endures to this day, nit only in France but in the Western penal tradition more generally.
Paul Friedland is an affiliate of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University. He is currently a fellow of the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University (2011-2012). His first book, Political Actors: Representative Bodies and Theatricality in the Age of the French Revolution (2002), was awarded the Pinkney Prize for the best book of the year by the Society for French Historical Studies.
Introduction: Reading and Writing a History of Punishment ; PART I: THE ROOTS OF MODERN PUNISHMENT IN PRE-MODERN EUROPE ; 1. The Fall and Rise of Rome: Compensation, Atonement, and Deterrence in the Early Middle Ages ; 2. Criminal Intent and Spectacular Punishment: The Infiltration of Roman Legal Theory and Practice into French Customary Law ; PART II: EXECUTIONERS AND THE RITUAL OF EXECUTION ; 3. Extraordinary Beings: The Life and Work of Executioners ; 4. The Execution of Justice: The Ritual of Punishment in Medieval and Early Modern France ; PART III: SPECTATORS & SPECTACLE ; 5. From Ritual to Spectacle: The Rise of the Penal Voyeur in Early Modern France ; 6. Executions, Spectator Emotions, and the Naturalization of Sympathy ; 7. A Spectacular Crisis: Watching Executions in the Age of Sensibilite ; PART IV: A DEATH PENALTY FOR THE MODERN AGE ; 8. Theorizing a New Death Penalty: Penal Reform on the Eve of the Revolution ; 9. Legislating the New Death Penalty: The Simple Deprivation of Life ; 10. Executing the New Death Penalty: The Invisible Spectacle of the Guillotine ; Epilogue: The Play Over, The Actors (Slowly) Leave the Stage (1794-1939) ; Conclusion: Punishment Past and Present