Seeing Justice Done: The Age of Spectacular Capital Punishment in France (Paul Friedland)

FriedlandParution de Paul Friedland, Seeing Justice Done: The Age of Spectacular Capital Punishment in France, Oxford, 2014, 344 p., ISBN 978-0-19-959269-2


From the early Middle Ages to the 20th century, capital punishment in France, as in many other countries, was staged before large crowds of spectators. This book traces the theory and practice of public executions over time from the perspective of the executioners and government officials who staged them, 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, animal executions and the execution of 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 penal reform. 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, the death penalty in France was systematically stripped of its spectacular elements.

Table des matières


Part I The Roots of Modern Punishment in Pre-Modern Europe

1 The Fall and Rise of Rome

2 Criminal Intent and Spectacular Punishment

Part II Executioners and The Ritual of Execution

3 Extraordinary Beings

4 The Execution of Justice

Part III Spectators and Spectacle

5 From Ritual to Spectacle

6 Executions, Spectator Emotions, and the Naturalization of Sympathy

7 A Spectacular Crisis

Part IV A Death Penalty for the Modern Age

8 Theorizing a New Death Penalty

9 Legislating the New Death Penalty

10 Executing the New Death Penalty




Paul Friedland, Affiliate of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University

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.

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