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Throughout the medieval period it was believed that the only way to keep order was to make sure that the people were scared of the punishments given for crimes committed. For this reason all crimes from stealing to burglary of houses to murder had harsh punishments.
Although there were gaols, they were generally used to hold a prisoner awaiting trial rather than as a means of punishment. Fines, shaming (being placed in stocks), mutilation (cutting off a part of the body) or death were the most common forms of medieval punishment.
There was no police force in the medieval period so law-enforcement was in the hands of the community.
The Manorial Court (Trial by Jury)
The manorial court dealt with all but the most serious crimes. It was held at various intervals during the year, and all villagers had to attend or pay a fine. All men were placed in groups of ten called a tithing. Each tithing had to make sure that no member of their group broke the law. If a member of a tithing broke a law then the other members had to make sure that he went to court.
The Lord’s steward was in charge of the court. A jury of twelve men was chosen by the villagers. The jury had to collect evidence and decide whether the accused was guilty or not guilty and, if found guilty, what the medieval punishment should be.
The King’s Court (Trial by Ordeal)
Serious crimes were heard by the King’s court. The accused had to face trial by ordeal to decide whether they were guilty or not guilty.
Ordeal by Fire
The accused had to pick up a red hot iron bar and hold it while they walked three or four paces. Their hand was then bandaged. After three days they had to return to the court where the bandages were removed. If the wound was beginning to heal they were innocent but if the wound showed no sign of healing then they were pronounced Guilty.
Ordeal by Water
The accused had their hands and feet tied together. They were then thrown into water. If they floated they were guilty but if they sank they were innocent.
Ordeal by Combat
Noblemen would fight (usually to the death) in combat with their accuser. The winner of the battle would be considered to be in the right.
After 1215 Trial by Ordeal was replaced by Trial by Jury
For more information on counter-intuitive facts of ancient and medieval history, see Anthony Esolen’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization © 2008. You can find it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
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Below you will find three outstanding thesis statements / paper topics on Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1 Alienation and Separation from Society in Crime and Punishment
The world presented in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky is quite harsh and there are few examples of people who are either comfortable or provided for. Certainly this is the case with Raskolnikov (also called Rodya or Rodion) and his family. This desolate landscape and setting further emphasizes the theme of desolation, isolation, and alienation. For this essay you could take two directions. First, you could examine the setting itself and describes ways in which it is in itself alienating. For a longer essay, could incorporate ideas about the setting with the ways in which characters as alienated from society. Raskolnikov would be the best example and you could discuss how he is alienated because of his worldview and finds, in his own personal philosophy, that he is superior and others only exist to serve him in some way. There are other directions you could take the theme of alienation and these are but two examples.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2 The Role of God and Religion in Crime and Punishment
The function of religion and individual understandings of God is an important theme in the novel, particularly toward the end. Although Raskolnikov is far too arrogant throughout the majority of the novel to come to terms with religion or his conception of God, all around him there are a number of religious messages come at him from Sonia and others. The presence of religion offers readers a unique paradox because on the one hand, this novel is about an essentially godless person who commits an awful and grave sin. For this essay, examine the ways in which this might be a religious parable. Make connections between biblical characters (Cain and Abel, Mary Magdalene, etc) and if you want to be more complex, consider these issues in light of the context of Dostoevsky’s life and religious conversion.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: The Rationalization of Crime / Character Analysis of Raskolnikov
Part of what makes Raskonikov such an enduring, compelling, and frightening character is the way he is able to coldly rationalize murder and evil. In his mind, when how the woman is “useful to anyone at all” he is suggesting that there are people who do not deserve to live and since his purposes are noble (he is not, after all, murdering her for the sheer joy of crime but in order to help his family and secure a good life for himself late) then his crime is justified. Although the guilt tears him apart, at no point does he ever seem to wonder about if what he did was right or wrong necessarily, but his guilt stems from a more complex set of reasons—not the least of which is the involvement of Sonia. For this essay, examine the many ways in which Raskolnikov is able to rationalize sin and close the essay with your insights on what this means. Code corrupted. Insert fresh copy.