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Profs and Pints DC presents: “Torture in the Middle Ages,” with Larissa “Kat” Tracy, professor of medieval literature at Longwood University and author or editor of ten books on medieval violence.
When Pulp Fiction’s Marsellus Wallace vows to “get medieval” on someone we assume that they’re in for some serious pain. Torture—that most notorious aspect of medieval culture and society—more recently has been portrayed in popular culture in series like Game of Thrones and Vikings, through lurid scenes depicting torture and gruesome punishment as standard medieval practice. In many modern European cities one can find popular museums displaying such gruesome implements as the rack, the strappado, the gridiron, the wheel, and the Iron Maiden.
The dominant mythology suggests that the Middle Ages was a period during which sadistic torment was inflicted on citizens with impunity and without provocation. The truth, however, is a lot more complicated.
Join Professor Larissa “Kat” Tracy, who has extensively researched torture, punishment, and social justice in medieval society, for a talk challenging preconceived ideas that popular historians, films, and media have promoted about the prevalence of torture and judicial brutality in medieval society.
She’ll discuss medieval Europe’s actual use of torture—the instruments, the laws, the cultural norms, and the victims—and make clear that the act of punishment was actually a very different legal event. She’ll argue that the portrayals of medieval torture in literature represent satire, critique and dissent; they have didactic and political functions in opposing the status quo.
The books that Professor Tracy has written or edited include Torture and Brutality in Medieval Literature; Castration and Culture in the Middle Ages; Medieval and Early Modern Murder; Flaying in the Premodern World, and most recently End Game: Exile and Execution in Medieval and Early Modern Society. When she gets medieval on you it means you are going to learn. The experience, however, won’t be painful at all. (Advance tickets: $13.50 plus sales tax and processing fees. Doors: $17, or $15 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later.)
Image: Torture instruments on display at Prague Castle. Photo by Clayton Tang / Wikimedia Commons.