From Ritual to Spectacle

Paul Friedland

in Seeing Justice Done

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780199592692
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741852 | DOI:
From Ritual to Spectacle

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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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

Chapter.  13613 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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