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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: March ::
Re: Public Executions: Hang, Drawn, and Quartered
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0526  Tuesday, 18 March 2003

From:           David Lindley <
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Date:           Monday, 17 Mar 2003 18:27:18 GMT0BST
Subject:        Re: Question about Public Executions: Hang, Drawn, and

>I teach a high school class and we were talking about the Elizabethan
>era execution rituals for being hanged, drawn, and quartered.  As I
>understand it, during the quartering part, the condemned's four limbs
>were tied to four different horses who were pointed in four different
>directions and someone yelled giddyup.

No!  This scenario, memorably(?) described at the opening of Foucault's
Discipline and Punish, may have been continental practice, but was not
true in England.

For a clear (and brief) outline of the subject, see J.A. Sharpe,
Judicial Punishment in England (London: Faber and Faber, 1990) which
goes from Early Modern to the Twentieth Century.  As he points out,
most of the detailed work on execution in England has focussed on the
eighteenth century and, I think, this is still very much the case, as in
studies such as V.A.C. Gattrell's excellent The Hanging Tree: Execution
and the English People, 1770-1868.

The rituals of hanging, drawing and quartering were reserved, I believe,
for traitors and so were not universal.  What marked the early modern
execution rituals, according to Sharpe, was the vastly increased premium
placed upon the convict making a 'good end', with a 'last dying speech'
which confessed guilt and sought forgiveness.  He also comments that,
unlike the public executions of the eighteenth century, those of the
sixteenth and seventeenth seemed to be 'orderly' occasions.

David Lindley

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