The Spectacle of the Scaffold - The Spectacle of the...

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The Spectacle of the Scaffold Summary The French penal ordinance of 1670 set out very harsh penalties, but a gap existed between theory and penal practice. Public execution and torture were not the most frequent form of punishment. However, torture played a considerable part in penality. The definition of torture involves an exact, measurable quantity of pain. An "economy of power" is invested in torture. Torture is part of a ceremony that reveals the truth of a crime. The trial is initially a hidden process. But a tradition of rules of evidence existed: there were different degrees of proof. Now these degrees relate to the juridical effects or the outcome of the trial. Penal investigation was written, secret and subject to rules. It was a machine that might produce the truth in the absence of the accused. But a confession removed the need for further investigation. A confession transforms an investigation from a process carried on against the criminal to a voluntary affirmation. The ambiguity of the confession explains the means used to obtain it: the oath and judicial torture. Torture is an ancient practice, which had a strict place in the classical legal system. It had two elements: a secret investigation by judicial authority and a ritual act by the accused. The body of the accused linked these two elements. This is why, until the whole classical system of punishment was examined, there was no critique of torture. Judicial torture was a regulated practice, almost a game. If the suspect successfully resisted, he could be freed. Classical torture was a way of finding evidence in which investigation and punishment were mixed. As the system of proof produced a partial proof of guilt, torture punished this partial guiltiness whilst investigating it further. In the execution, the criminal's body showed the truth of his crime because, one) the criminal became the herald of his own condemnation; two) it took up the scene of confession, where the full truth was revealed; three) it pinned public torture onto the crime itself; four) its slowness and suffering became the ultimate proof at the end of the ritual. From judicial torture to execution, the body produces and reproduces the truth of the crime. A public execution is to be understood as a political as well as a judicial ritual. The intervention of the sovereign in a case was a reply to an offense against him. Public execution was a ritual by which injured sovereignty was restored. Public
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