The Guillotine

Essay by dimi19High School, 12th gradeA+, May 2004

download word file, 3 pages 4.3

Throughout French history, there have been a number of various techniques for carrying out capital punishment. The guillotine was considered one of the more efficient and humane machines for administering capital punishment. This device was introduced as a method of capital punishment in France in 1792, during the French Revolution. Prior to the guillotine's introduction, many French criminals had suffered through horrible punishments, in public places, such as burning, strangulation, being broken on a wheel, hanging, dismemberment, beheading, and being pulled apart by horses. "The guillotine was used in France until the abolition of the death penalty under Mitterrand in 1981" ("The Guillotine").

The guillotine is a decapitating machine. It consists of two upright posts, grooved on the inside and connected at the top by a crossbeam. A sharp, oblique blade, placed between the grooves, is held at the top of the machine by a rope. Tobias Schmidt, a German harpsichord-builder and mechanic, discovered that an oblique blade at a 45-degree angle should separate the head from the body.

"When the beheading is done mechanically, the beheading must cut through (slice) instead of slash" (Guillotine "History and Construction of the Guillotine"). On the release of the rope, the blade drops onto the neck of the victim strapped to a board at the base of the machine. In total, the guillotine consists of seven parts: the crossbeam, the mouton, the grooves, the déclic, the lunette, the bascule, and the shield. When an execution takes place, an assistant executioner, called the Photographer, stands in front of the guillotine, ready to pull the head of the victim forward, if he should try to redraw it. The shield is there to protect the assistant from the blood splash.

The guillotine was named after Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a French physician. "He did not invent the...