In "The Lady or the Tiger," why were these spectacles popular among the townspeople?
The story starts off with these words:
In the very olden time there lived a semi-barbaric king...
These were semi-barbaric times. The people had a semi-barbaric king, and they were semi-barbaric themselves. Also, the king's daughter is described as being semi-barbaric herself.
Had it not been for the moiety of barbarism in her nature it is probable that lady would not have been there, but her intense and fervid soul would not allow her to be absent on an occasion in which she was so terribly interested.
This sort of public entertainment was not uncommon in "olden times." The ancient Romans staged all sorts of spectacles in which people were devoured by wild animals, and the public loved them. But the fact that the story itself is still popular today shows that people haven't really changed all that much. Readers are still intrigued by the situation of the princess's lover. Will he choose the door with the beautiful woman behind it? Or will he choose the one with the hungry tiger? Will the princess single him to choose the door concealing the rival she hates? Or will she decide to guide her lover to the wrong door and watch him killed and eaten? Our interest in the story suggests that we might be semi-barbaric ourselves.
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.
We no longer have public spectacles in which people are devoured by lions and tigers (although they probably would be big-ticket events if still available). But we have semi-barbaric substitutes in sports such as pro football and ice hockey. And there are other savage spectacles which are conducted clandestinely, such as cockfights and dog fights. Bull fights are popular and perfectly legal in many countries, and it isn't too hard to watch them on television in countries such as the U.S. where they are not legal. The 1975 movie Jaws and its sequels were extremely popular and profitable for the filmmakers. In the opening scenes of Jaws we see a beautiful naked girl being eaten by a Great White Shark. In other words, we haven't changed all that much--and the author of "The Lady or the Tiger," Francis Richard Stockton, knew it.