Wednesday, 9 April 2008

The Square

This is just a silly little story about one of those medieval town squares that appear so frequently in my fantasies. There is nothing like some public entertainment.

The sun was shining and the town square was bustling. People had come from near and far to make business, get drunk, have a laugh or just meet others. Some had come to sell their merchandise, others had come to buy, some to steal and others to just have a look. People were merry, shouting and cheering and making a lot of noise. It was a brilliant day for a market and for some entertainment.

There were singers and dancers and musicians and even a small theatre company, all struggling for the attention of the crowd. There were jugglers and conjurers and all sorts of entertainers. It was a brilliant day, a happy day, a day to forget the struggle for survival, to think about brighter and happier things, to escape the clutches of the mundane.

And in all this chaos of people and things and sounds and smells there was a sense of expectation, as if the best was yet to be, as if the greatest event of the day had not yet come.

Something was, indeed going to happen.

When the trumpets sounded all turned their attention towards the side of the square were the Town Hall was. The crowd rushed towards the scaffold that was built in front of the building. The people were cheering and shouting as they gathered in front of the grim building, forming a mass of bodies and a sea of heads. This was the moment, now it was time for the great entertainment.

Out onto the scaffold came the clerks and the magistrates and the councillors of the city. It was a great gathering of prominent and important men on that scaffold, in their gowns and cloaks and fancy hats. There were also pages and soldiers and a big man with strange clothes and a hood.

But the crowd was not interested in them, they couldn't care less about the regalia and grandeur of those men, nor about the strength and bravery of the soldiers. No, the crowd was waiting for someone else and when they saw her a roar went up from a thousand throats.

She was dressed in white as she stepped hesitantly out onto the scaffold on bare feet. She look small and fragile besides the soldiers and when she heard the sound of the crowd she looked startled. She held her head high, not with pride, not to mock the crowd but to try to keep some kind of dignity. She looked terrified but yet solemn. She braced herself.

'Come on sweetie!' someone cried.

'Don't mock her!'

'Why do you care?'

'Don't start with that!'

One of the magistrates was reading something but no one listened.

'Get on with it!'

'Can't hear what he is saying.'

'Don't care what he is saying.'

'What has she done?'

'Who cares?'

'Get on with it!'

'Get the whip.'

The hooded man walked out on the scaffold and looked out over the crowd.

'Come on you devil!'

'Come home with me and I'll cook for you,' a woman shouted and started to laugh.

'I'll have your babies.'

The crowd stopped screaming as the young woman was ushered out on to the centre of the scaffold.

'I like it when it is a girl.'

'You pervert!'

'No, they looked nicer.'

'Poor soul.'

'Ah, she won't break.'

'Off with her clothes!'

'Why do they have to take off the clothes?'

'Can't whip someone with their clothes on.'

'Why not?'

'You just can't.'

'I like it when they take off the clothes.'

'You pervert.'

'No, why, women look nicer.'

'Well, I bet she looks better with her kit off than you.'

A mighty roar grew as the soldiers suddenly ripped the white dress from the young woman. The crowd gasped as they pulled her thin white garment from her shoulders and she in one brutal harsh movement was bared before their eyes.

'Now we are getting somewhere.'

'Poor girl.'

'Nah, she deserves it.'

'What has she done?'

'Don't know.'

'It doesn't matter, I like it anyhow.'

'This is not entertainment.'

'I like it anyway.'

'We all like it, you idiot.'

'Not her.'

The soldiers had now tied the naked woman to the whipping post and the hooded man approached her and he took out his whip.

'Oh, poor girl, I can't watch.'

'Why are you here then?'

'Whip her! She deserves it!'

'I am glad it is not me.'

'I bet you want to be her.'

'Have you staring at me, like that?'

'She is younger.'

'You bastard.'

'I can come home with you and take my whip with me.'

'Shut up and look.'

'Whip her you big fat bastard!'

The hooded man started to lay the whip on the back and buttocks of the naked woman at the post.

'Yeah, that is what I want to see.'

'You pervert.'

'Nah, he is a professional.'

'Always fascinating to see a professional in action.'

'Don't you have any pity?'

'Nah, what for?'

The cries from the naked young woman were drowned by the mocking and cheering from the crowd as the hooded man proceeded to mete out her punishment.


'You weakling, it is just starting to be fun.'

'Poor girl!'

'Harder, whip her harder, you bastard.'

'Don't mock him, he is a professional.'

The hooded man stepped away and folded his whip and put it away. The soldiers untied the woman and ushered her from the scaffold. The crowd fell silent. The show was over.

'That was that.'

'I want a pint or two.'

'Yeah, whippings make you thirsty.'

'They don't last long.'

'Ask her about that!'

'Hangings doesn't even last this long.'

'No, whippings are better.'

'No, hangings are better.'

'You have a twisted mind.'

'Poor girl.'

'She won't sleep well.'

'What was she punished for?'

'Have no idea.'

'Who cares?'

And the crowd went back to their vending, shouting and drinking having had their fill of whippings today. There would always be whippings, there would always be entertainment.


Paul said...

Janice dear girl, I suspect that's not so far from what really happened.
If you read the court records from the 17th and 18th centuries birching and floggings were the norm, though it's doubtful if the big wigs attended, unless the victim was important.
If you are interested, for a large part of my life I lived a short walk from Tyburn Way, better known as Marble Arch.
Warm hugs,

wilhelmina said...

What a good take on the whipping post. I agree with Paul I can imagine it could have been like that. People came for the entertainment of it.

It reminded me a little of a scene I had read in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment where the lead character has a dream about a horse that gets whipped and how the drunken crowd cheered the owner on. It didn't turn out well for the horse but the jeering of the crowd is similar in some ways.

That crowd mentality is a little scary and they didn't care, they just wanted to be entertained.

Well done!


Anonymous said...

Vivid, even cinematic (or it could be -- and how I wish...)

Wystan E. (deceased)

Anonymous said...

Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy came to my mind too as I read this Janice. I don't remember which one it was wrote of flogging the girls in the village square, and of how they let the boys do it when it was, but I do recall reading it of one. (I think it was The Brothers Karamazov, I don't know, my Russian phase was so long ago.)

I enjoyed how you made this story so impersonal about the woman, all of the action taking place among the groundlings and the nobles: whipping and hanging really were the entertainment of the day. Marble Arch is much less exciting now, Tyburn Tree these days is just a branch of Wetherspoon!

In the city where I lived as a child, a former colonial outpost and penal colony town, hanging was done beside the wall of the gaol and the scaffold built tall so that the drop could be seen by the residents outside. Not that I am so old as to remember these things of course. Flogging of men and caning of women was inside the gaol.

I am sad to read here of the death of Wystan, but then I am hardly one to talk am I?

God bless you Janice, and all of your friends as well.


The late Miss Kirsten Ellison.

Janice said...

Am in the company of ghosts? Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated and I am glad that at least Paul and Mina are alive and kicking.

But yes, Paul, there is something exciting about old time punishment and harshness, almost like a romantic air around it...smiles. Mina, I agree that the crowd is scary, lucky me that I am the one deciding what will happen...chuckles. And, Wystan, cinematic is nice to hear, that is how I perceived it. It was harsher times, then, Kirsten.



Recidavist said...

.....the things they did for entertainment before you tube; not all progress is good!