two doorways with an elegant woman standing in one and a large tiger head in the other

The Lady, or the Tiger?

by Francis Richard Stockton
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What is unique about the king's arena in Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

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The king's arena in Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?" is not unique because there is a 50% chance that the accused will die an ignominious death. Roman arenas provided such gut-wrenching death scenes as well. The king's arena in this story is unique because the outcome doesn't depend on a criminal's strength or skills in battle. For the person who faces the choice of what is behind two doors, the outcome is determined by chance. The narrator describes the king's justification behind creating such an arena for justice as follows:

This was the king's semibarbaric method of administering justice. Its perfect fairness is obvious. The criminal could not know out of which door would come the lady. . . 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?

Based on the information provided from the passage, the unique qualities of this king's arena is that the criminal gets to choose his fate; then, whatever comes out from behind the door is the accused's final reward or punishment.

In Roman arenas, slaves would fight gladiators more than once or until they died. Roman arenas weren't used as courtrooms, either. They were used purely for violent entertainment. As a result of the philosophy behind the arena, the king supplies his subjects and himself with a partially civilized way of dealing with criminals; of course, the civilized part emerges only if criminals choose the lady's door. On the other hand, the arena is also barbaric because of the deaths which occur if criminals choose the door with the tiger behind it. Ultimately, there is hope in the king's arena because there is a choice; and when there is a choice, there is an opportunity for the criminal to escape the punishment of a tiger. The arena is also unique because of the intrigue it provides its audience each time a new criminal is released in it.

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The king's arena is unique because it is used to try, in a way, those who are accused of a crime that is of enough significance to catch the king's attention. Although the arena's design has been borrowed from other arenas in other far-off places, this king puts it to a different use than others have done. He does not follow tradition but, rather, his own "fancy," or imagination. Once the accused enters the arena, he is faced with two doors—his "trial" consists of his choosing one of these doors. Behind one is a hungry tiger, and, if the accused opens this door, the tiger will immediately maul him and kill him; behind the other is a lady, "the most suitable to his years and station that his majesty could select among his fair subjects, and to this lady he was immediately married, as a reward of his innocence." It is the accused himself that decides his own fate by opening of the doors and either getting eaten by the tiger or married to the woman.

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The king's arena was built upon a model he had borrowed from surrounding countries who were less ostensibly "barbaric" than his own, but he put his arena to a different use than those he imitated. While other nations used their arenas to give people the opportunity to view gladiators fighting and watch the clashes between Christians and tigers—obviously, to us, these are barbaric uses, but in Ancient Rome, they were acceptable—the king used his as "an agent of poetic justice." This meant that he used it to punish crimes or reward virtue in front of a grand audience. The king had invented this idea himself, being beholden to his own whims and fancies more than to anything else. When a crime was sufficiently interesting for him, he would want to have it showcased in his arena.

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