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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Background and Setting of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" by Frank R. Stockton


The story "The Lady, or the Tiger?" by Frank R. Stockton is set in a semi-barbaric kingdom ruled by a king with an unusual method of administering justice. In this kingdom, accused individuals are placed in an arena where they must choose between two doors—one hiding a lady, signifying innocence, and the other hiding a tiger, signifying guilt and certain death.

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When and where does "The Lady, or the Tiger?" by Frank R. Stockton take place?

Although the author does not say, the story appears to have taken place during ancient times. The text tells us that the "semi-barbaric" king of the story held progressive ideas that were inspired by "distant Latin neighbors."

The reference to the "semi-barbaric" king is significant. First, the text tells us how the king's "barbarism had become semified." In essence, he had borrowed ideas about execution and justice from his more progressive Latin neighbors. Each and every criminal was tried in an amphitheater for crimes committed against the kingdom. Second, the "amphitheater" in the story appears to have been modeled after the Colosseum or the Flavian Amphitheater of Rome.

The text further reinforces the "semi-barbarism" (as opposed to the complete barbarism) of the king by asserting that his amphitheater had not been built to "give the people an opportunity of hearing the rhapsodies of dying gladiators, nor to enable them to view the inevitable conclusion of a conflict between religious opinions and hungry jaws, but for purposes far better adapted to widen and develop the mental energies of the people." It is well-known that the ancient Roman Colosseum played host to gladiatorial events and the executions of Christians and criminals.

So, if the king in the story is "semi-barbaric" because of these factors, we can accept the possibility that he could very well have belonged to one of the barbaric tribes that invaded Rome on many occasions. History tells us that the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Burgundians, Vandals, Franks, and Lombards (barbarian Germanic tribes) as well as the Huns (a barbaric warrior race from Asia) were instrumental in the fragmentation of the Roman empire.

Either way, the story could conceivably have taken place during the powerful era of the Roman Empire and in a region surrounding the western Roman Empire.

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When was Frank Stockton's short story "The Lady, or the Tiger?" published?

Francis Richard Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger" was originally published in 1882. Language Arts and creative writing classes use this story as a good example to teach how to understand ambiguity. Ambiguity creates mystery and thought-provoking questions for the reader. Stockton's short story was an instant hit because it kept everyone who read it talking or thinking about it for long periods of time. Since there is no authorial ending, the reader is left hanging to decide the fate of the Lady's lover. It is also a good story to use when teaching about inference or a character's motivation.

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