Frank Stockton's much anthologized short story "The Lady or the Tiger" is about a "semi-barbaric" king who has devised a very unique system of justice. He feels this system to be beyond reproach and perfectly fair. If a man is accused of a crime he determines his guilt or innocence in a public arena built just for that purpose. It is a popular institution in the kingdom and the trials are well attended by the public.
Once the accused enters the arena he has the choice of two doors, behind one is a tiger, who kills him, and behind the other a lady, who is promptly married to him. Therefore, fate rules the day in this kingdom. Stockton says,
This vast amphitheater, with its encircling galleries, its mysterious vaults, and its unseen passages, was an agent of poetic justice, in which crime was punished, or virtue rewarded, by the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance.
The justice in this system is simple. If the tiger is chosen, the accused must have been guilty, but if the lady comes out of the door, his innocence is proven. The simplicity of this system was quite in line with the king's thinking. The king liked the world to be black and white. In the opening paragraph Stockton explains the king's philosophy of governance:
When every member of his domestic and political systems moved smoothly in its appointed course, his nature was bland and genial; but, whenever there was a little hitch, and some of his orbs got out of their orbits, he was blander and more genial still, for nothing pleased him so much as to make the crooked straight and crush down uneven places.
Either an accused man was guilty or not. The king obviously disapproved of regular courts with lawyers and juries, because shades of gray might enter into proceedings. Appeals, hung juries, clever defense attorneys and other complications with justice as we know it did not interest the king. He wanted demonstrable proof of the accused's guilt or innocence.
Even the king's subjects could not dispute the complete simplicity and fairness of this system. Stockton says,
The institution was a very popular one. When the people gathered together on one of the great trial days, they never knew whether they were to witness a bloody slaughter or a hilarious wedding. This element of uncertainty lent an interest to the occasion which it could not otherwise have attained. Thus, the masses were entertained and pleased, and the thinking part of the community could bring no charge of unfairness against this plan, for did not the accused person have the whole matter in his own hands?
Of course, the accused who knew himself to be innocent yet chose poorly may not have agreed with the king's point of view.