In the story "The Lady or the Tiger," what was the method devised by the king to administer justice?

lit24 | Student

The king had devised a very ingenious method of punishing the criminals of his country. He had built a public  arena which the author Frank R. Stockton describes in the following manner:

"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."

On the appointed day when all the citizens had taken their seats, the criminal would have to step out into the arena below. Directly opposite him were two similar doors. Behind one door was the fiercest tiger in the whole country and behind the other was a very beautiful girl. The criminal was free to open either one of these doors. If he opened the door behind which the tiger was he would be immediately torn to pieces and "doleful iron bells were clanged, great wails went up from the hired mourners posted on the outer rim of the arena," announcing the guilty man's end. If he opened the door behind which the beautiful girl was he would be immediately married to her and "gay brass bells rang forth their merry peals, the people shouted glad hurrahs, and the innocent man, preceded by children strewing flowers on his path, led his bride to his home."

To quote the author:

"This was the king's semi-barbaric method of administering justice. Its perfect fairness is obvious. The criminal could not know out of which door would come the lady; he opened either he pleased, without having the slightest idea whether, in the next instant, he was to be devoured or married. On some occasions the tiger came out of one door, and on some out of the other. The decisions of this tribunal were not only fair, they were positively determinate: the accused person was instantly punished if he found himself guilty, and, if innocent, he was rewarded on the spot, whether he liked it or not. There was no escape from the judgments of the king's arena."

Read the study guide:
The Lady or the Tiger?

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