Executing the New Death Penalty

Paul Friedland

in Seeing Justice Done

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780199592692
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741852 | DOI:
Executing the New Death Penalty

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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Striving for a method of capital punishment that was, as much as possible, painless for the victim as well as for the spectator, legislators in the National Assembly settled upon the idea of a decapitating machine. This machine, almost immediately dubbed the guillotine after the lawmaker who first proposed the idea, promised a public death that happened so quickly that it was invisible to the naked eye. While, at first, there was a good deal of public fascination with the speed with which the guillotine could transform a living human being into a lifeless head, over time the spectacle of the guillotine proved somewhat disappointing to spectators, particularly during the Terror when it was repeated with great frequency. The executioners of France became a casualty of the machine, as the complex craft which they had practiced for generations was now reduced to the simple act of pulling a cord.

Keywords: death penalty; spectacle; guillotine; capital punishment; National Assembly; invisible; Terror; executioners

Chapter.  13601 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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