Mikado: My object all sublime
I shall achieve in time —
To let the punishment fit the crime —
The punishment fit the crime;
When a crime is committed, there may be a neat, one-size-fits-all for that crime, or any crime
, but more creative souls may decide to tailor it neatly to fit more precisely -- a unique punishment. Cool and Unusual Punishment
may, indeed, be needed to make it fit.
is not out of the question, since it need only fit the crime in the eyes of the one inflicting it (and the crime may be wholly imaginary). Revenge by Proxy
is usually this as well -- intended for the actual target, not the victim of the revenge. It can also cross over with Laser-Guided Karma
, with the punishing characters as the agents of Karma.
The Poetic Serial Killer
is really fond of these, although their victims are innocent more often than not with the "crime" largely in the killer's head only.
is full of these.
- In The Super Joe Pesci plays a slum manager sentenced to live in his own building and has 120 days to bring it up to code. His father, an even bigger jerk slumlord who gave Pesci's character the job as a "welcome to the family buisness" gift, is adamant that his son not make any improvements to the building and in the climax plans to torch the place for the insurance money.
Live Action TV
- In Robert A. Heinlein's The Number of the Beast, there is a dimension in which criminals are punished by replicating their crimes as closely as possible: a hit-and-run driver is hit by a car and left to scream by the side of the road while the ambulance personnel stand, chatting, until the time when his victim was recovered.
- In John C. Wright's The Phoenix Exultant, the Bellipotent Composition maintains that the Invariant/Warlock conflict was caused by the Invariant insistence on a stark, mechancial dealing out of punishments as prescribed, and the Warlock insistence on poetic punishments tailored to the criminal.
- In Poul Anderson's "My Object All Sublime", a far-future society dumps its criminals into the past, into situations carefully choosen to match the crimes they have committed. At least, in their eyes. A character in this story is identified by the narrator and put in a different dangerous situation for having escaped the Nazis during World War II. Though since we never know what crime he committed -- he states only that the crimes of some eras are praiseworthy in others, and that he would not go back to the future, ruled by traitors -- and the narrator is too coldly professional to arouse much sympathy, we do not know if they are just in the process. (He explicitly says that his wife and children being left behind, unaware of why he vanished, is part of the punishment.)
- Mirra's penitentiary system works by fitting the severity of punishment to a) how typical the crime is for the perpetrator's social, economical, ethnical etc. data and to b) making the punishment fit to the perpetrator's native system of justice, unless the punishment on Mirra is already harder.
- In The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl, the club members discuss this quite a bit, as they're trying to find a good English word or phrase for this phenomenon.
Mythology and Legends
- On Copper the Union Army is in the middle of the American Civil War and desperate for new recruits, subcontracts recruiting to private individuals. One of them decides to simply kidnap teenage boys and then 'volunteer' them for the army. The Army turns a blind eye but Det Corcoran takes an extremely dim view of this. His first choice is to simply shoot the man outright but he is asked to show mercy so instead he takes the man to the recruitment office and 'volunteers' him for service.
Table Top G Ames
- Theseus the Greek hero killed bandits the same way bandits killed others.
- Cúchulainn means "Culann's Hound" -- for a period of time, after killing Culann's hound, he did its job guarding the hall.
- Greek Mythology:
- Tantalus killed, cooked, and served his own son at a banquet the gods were attending. As punishment, he is condemned to eternally starve and die of thirst just out of reach of fresh fruit and cold water.
- Sisyphus was a Guile Hero who tricked the gods one time too many, and is condemned to push a huge boulder up a hill, only for the boulder to roll downhill every time.
- Prometheus' punishment for sharing the secret of fire was being chained to a mountaintop and having his liver ripped out every day by a giant bird, regrowing every day.
- For violating Sacred Hospitality by trying to hit on Hera when invited to Olympus, Ixion was forever strapped to a burning wheel.
- The Danaids are brides who killed their arranged husbands on the wedding night (all but one), and were condemned to endlessly pour water into a barrel filled with holes..
- Norse Mythology: Loki is chained beneath the earth as punishment for engineering the death of the god Baldur, where a giant snake drips venom into his eyes. His wife holds a bowl over his head, but when she leaves to empty it, Loki's thrashing causes earthquakes.
- This trope is a central concept of the Ravenloft game-setting, where curses (including darklords' punishments) tend to be tailor-made to rub the cursed party's crimes in their face.
- The Mikado -- comically, with such punishments as dull lectures for boring people.
- There have been various cases around the U.S. where a judge has ordered a slumlord who was derelict in his maintenance responsibilities, to live under house arrest in the slum building in question for a given amount of time or until the proper repairs were made. It seemed a rather novel approach in the late 1980s and early 1990s when such cases first made news, but now it seems to be a common punishment for absentee landlords derelict in their obligations to tenants.
- In at least one (and no doubt many more) Real Life instance, a judge sentenced someone guilty of the misdomenor of "disturbing the peace" - specifically, playing their car stereo too loud - to attend a classical music concert.