Tuesday, May 11, 2010

24-hours of Torture and Mayhem

On Sunday night, King Henry found out about Katherine Howard’s indiscretions. The young queen, played by Tamzin Merchant, had lived a wanton life. In her most recent escapade, she had bedded the King’s trusted groomsman. I had to Google to find out exactly what a groomsman does, and it relates to certain clean up duties in the stool room. For her treasonous behavior Katherine was sentenced to death by beheading. The groomsman was to be hanged and drawn and quartered, which was commuted by Henry to simple beheading. One of Katherine’s earlier lovers had to suffer the entire hanging, drawing and quartering. By our supposed civilized standards, this was a barbaric punishment. It is described thusly in Wikipedia (not for the faint of heart, but bear with me, I have a point to make:

The condemned man would usually be sentenced to the short drop method of hanging, so that the neck would not break. The man was usually dragged alive to the quartering table, although in some cases men were brought to the table dead or unconscious. A splash of water was usually employed to wake the man if unconscious, then he was laid down on the table. A large cut was made in the gut after removing the genitalia, and the intestines would be spooled out on a device that resembled a dough roller. Each piece of organ would be burned before the sufferer's eyes, and when he was completely disembowelled, his head would be cut off. The body would then be cut into four pieces, and the king would decide where they were to be displayed. Usually the head was sent to the Tower of London and, as in the case of William Wallace, the other four pieces were sent to different parts of the country. The head was generally par-boiled in brine to preserve the appearance of the head in display, while the quarters were more often prepared in pitch, for longer-lasting deterrent displays.

One could only hope not to survive the hanging. There was a depiction of the punishments, which I had to turn away from because of its brutality.

There is one scene where Katherine is performing a sad and lonely ballet while her two lovers are being hanged. Merchant did a wonderful job of portraying this as an act of a terrified adolescent, rather than as something macabre. Katherine purportedly said that, before her beheading, she was dying as a queen but she would have rather died as the wife of Culpepper, the groomsman. There is some debate as to the veracity of the quote, but it would certainly show some bravery- what was there to lose anyway (other than her head)? For his part, Henry was so broken up over the executions that he had a party with about 10 young women.

Now to my real point- last night, Jack Bauer found the Russian who killed Renee Walker, his love for this 24-hour period. Jack, being ever so curious and in the throes of great sadness, decided that he had to find out who ordered the killing. So, after repeated attempts to obtain the information civilly, Jack decides his only recourse was torture, of which he is an expert. So, he takes a pair of pliers and pulls the skin off the stomach area of the Russian. Ooops- no information. Then Jack thrusts a knife into the wound. Ooops- no information. Jack then makes several vertical cuts in the victim’s skin. Ooops- no information. Then Jack takes a blow torch and aims its flame into one of the wounds. Ooops- no information. Jack then mutters that his strategy was not working. He then saw the operative’s cell phone. Jack picks it up only to realize that its SIM card is missing. He yells at the Russian to tell him where the card is. Ooops- no information. Jack then realizes that the Russian must have swallowed it. Jack then cuts into the man’s stomach, and reaches in to retrieve the SIM card so he can trace who made the call to kill Renee. Now I know that this is TV- the kind of brutal TV that we have come to expect from the producers and writers of “24”. But this was beyond what anyone could anticipate. Someone had to think this stuff up and to that extent, is it any worse than those who thought up drawing, quartering, etc.? While one set of tortures actually happened, and one was fiction, but the common thread is that someone designed both. To the extent that the tortures that we use to extract information (and I don’t think we know even half of the story), we are no better than Henry, who lived 500 years ago.

Grim, no?

But on a lighter note, Sarah Bolger, who plays Henry’s daughter Mary from his first marriage, is wonderful. She is reserved, elegant, and is adept at court intrigue. This is the same woman who became known as Bloody Mary for her execution and torture of Protestants. Isn’t religion grand?

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