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Dishonored Dead

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"The queen, the courtiers: who is that they follow?
And with such maimed rites? This doth betoken
The corse they follow did with desperate hand
Fordo its own life: 'twas of some estate.
Couch we awhile and mark."
Hamlet, Act V, Scene I

This trope is where, due to some crime or sin a deceased person committed in life, that person is denied some or all of the funerary rites that are normally Due to the Dead.

As a punishment that transcends even death itself, condemning someone's body to such a fate is usually reserved for the worst of the worst among a society, but the reasoning behind it varies. It could simply be a form of Last Disrespects, where the deceased's crimes are just so heinous that the deceased is deemed unworthy of the fond farewell and remembrance of a traditional funeral. Or worse yet, unworthy of any remembrance at all. If a culture considers its traditional rites important to a soul's safe passage to the beyond, then they can withhold the rites to ensure the wicked soul's damnation, or leave said soul Barred from the Afterlife entirely (which would be blasphemous itself, trying to rob God(s) out of the choice). Finally, if they know how the latter can backfire, they can opt for the other extreme and render that soul Deader than Dead, disposing of the body in a way that ensures the dead one won't return and continue to torment the living.

The methods also vary. Perhaps the dead’s bodies are buried in an isolated location away from those of the rest of their community, or their graves are left unmarked. Maybe a culture that usually preserves their dead will instead destroy the corpse of a wicked person. Often bodies are publicly exhibited to Make an Example of Them to show someone else down the line the price they will pay for messing with the wrong people. Or they could simply leave the body to rot or get eaten by the local wildlife. Whatever the case, they treat the bodies of bad people differently than those of everyone else.

Compare Desecrating the Dead and Speak Ill of the Dead.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Strongly implied to be the fate of Gyutaro and Ume's mother in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba. We see a shot of her body surrounded by flies in their home, and given how much of an Abusive Parent she was to her children it's unlikely they would have bothered with a proper funeral even if they could afford it.
  • In Snow White with the Red Hair the sentence for those who betray and try to kill members of the royal family is execution and burial in an unmarked grave at an undisclosed location. When Zen's first "friend" turned out to be part of a plot to kill him to get back at his brother for something the elder prince had done even though he didn't know where the traitor was buried and couldn't pay his respects, though Mitsuhide did retrieve an ornament from the young man's bow to give to Zen.

    Comic Books 
  • In the French comic Les Ombres du Styx, the inquisitor gets the mortally wounded serial killer to reveal his latest victim's location by swearing before Jupiter that his corpse will be prepared according to Egyptian rites (the killer had been raping and murdering little boys and mummifying them to serve him in the afterlife). The murderer gives the location... then the father of a previous victim informs the murderer that after the corpse is prepared, he'll make sure it doesn't end up buried according to the rites but thrown to the dogs, dooming his soul to an eternity of torment. The murderer dies begging for mercy, and the inquisitor goes off to find the boy, musing that there are now two promises to fulfill.

    Fan Works 
  • The Secret: After being shown Frederick's dead body, Emma decides to just leave it in the woods for wild animals. Thranduil is only too happy to oblige, having learned that Frederick had forced Emma into marrying him and viciously abused her.
  • Tell me about your Ancestors: Mistystar is furious at Darktail's dishonouring of her dead Clanmates by now allowing them to be buried in the river.
  • In The Funeral Rites of Tributes, District 1 tributes who die in the Hunger Games are seen as failures who have dishonored their district by dying. When they're shipped home, their bodies are simply thrown into a pit and left to decay. On hot days, the stench of their rotting corpses carries through the entire District.
  • The Negotiations-verse: In the "Divine Justice" ending of Fallen, after the reveal that she sold out dissenters to the Equestrian Secret Service for money, Applejack is lynched by the families and friends of those who died in the camps. Her body is hung from a tree and left to rot for three days before being buried in an unmarked grave.

    Film — Animation 
  • Coco:
    • Due to his abandoning of the family, Miguel's great-great-grandfather doesn't have a presence on the Rivera family's ofrenda. The one family picture of his great-great-grandparents has his face torn out. Miguel's great-great-grandfather is eventually revealed to be Héctor.
    • After the truth comes out about Héctor and Ernesto de la Cruz, the memorial dedicated to Ernesto appears to be condemned one year later. A bust of him has a sign around its neck that says "FORGET YOU."

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In the Expanded Universe of the Predator franchise, Predators who break their rules of honor (such as those who hunt defenseless beings) are hunted down, have their bodies dismembered and desecrated, and have their heads simply disposed of rather than being kept as a trophy as they do with most of their kills.
  • In The Gravedancers, Harris, Sid, and Kira discover that the graves that they desecrated were in a section of the cemetery reserved for people the town did not want to be buried with the rest of the dead: violent criminals, the mentally ill, etc. Kira is especially disturbed to discover that the tombstone of William Langer—the grave she danced upon—has the epitaph "GOOD RIDDANCE".
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Because Yondu broke the Ravagers' code of never trafficking children, Ogord declares that although he may be wearing the badge of the Ravagers, he will not hear the Horns of Freedom when he dies, and the Colors of Ogord will never fly over his grave. But, at the end of the movie, after Yondu has redeemed himself by saving his adopted son from Ego, the Ravager clans appear to honor him at his funeral with a beautiful display of lights.

  • The Tale of Einar Sokkason: After Einar has killed Ozur in a feud on the orders of bishop Arnald in the immediate vicinity of the church, the bishop prevents the proper rites, such as washing and laying out the corpse, taking place until he has finished his dinner at his leisure. Only when Einar chides the bishop for not treating Ozur's corpse with respect, the bishop gives permission to bury the body within a churchyard, but still delays the customary prayers until after the due time. The bishop's behavior contributes to the further escalation of the feud.
  • In The Mountains of Mourning an elderly woman who murdered her "mutant" (actually just suffering a cleft lip) granddaughter is sentenced to death. But in deference to her age, she is merely stripped of all her property, made a ward of her daughter, and finally denied the customary funeral rite of burning a memorial offering at her grave. This last is what finally hammers the sentence home to her.
  • The Lost Fleet: An officer who led a mutiny against Captain Geary's command, attempting to destroy his flagship and succeeding in destroying a heavy cruiser whose captain backed out of the plot, has her body unceremoniously jettisoned while in jump-space. Geary himself is more than a little shocked when he hears that this is a normal part of the penalty for treason because superstition has it that anyone whose mortal remains cannot be returned to normal space for proper burial is Barred from the Afterlife. He doesn't overrule it, though: The appropriately named Captain Kila tried to do the very same thing to himself and everyone onboard the flagship by remotely sabotaging their jump-drive.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • If a dead Clan cat has committed a grave crime, that cat may be denied the traditional funeral rites of sharing tonguesnote  and the cat’s Clanmates sitting the night vigil by the body. When Clawface, a ShadowClan warrior turned rogue who murdered Spottedleaf and kidnapped a litter of ThunderClan kits, is killed on a raid on the ThunderClan camp, his body is buried without any ceremony as punishment.
    • Mapleshade killed Ravenwing in revenge for him getting her and her kits kicked out of ThunderClan. After his Clan buried him, she dug him up and left his corpse to be eaten by hawks.
    • After taking over RiverClan's territory, Darktail and his "Kin" cruelly rub salt in their enemies' wounds by forcing them to leave the bodies of their slain Clanmates — which he callously dismisses as "carrion" — to rot and be picked apart by scavengers in the open, instead of allowing them to be taken for burial.
  • Safehold: Under the rules of the Church of God Awaiting, traitors cannot be buried in consecrated ground. After Admiral Manthyr and his men are captured by Dohlar, the Inquisition takes this to the point of throwing the bodies of dead POWs into the bay like garbage, instead of allowing them any burial.
  • The Earth's Children series has the following examples:
    • When a Clan person is "cursed with death", part of the punishment involves the person’s spirit being left to find its way to the afterlife without the usual funeral rites. However, the person’s belongings will be ceremonially burned so that the "deceased" will have nothing to hold them back.
    • Defied in the case of the despotic headwoman Attaroa. After she is killed by Wolf, one of the men who suffered under her rule says her body should be thrown to the scavengers. But Ayla says Attaroa should be buried with the dignity she was denied in life in order to break the cycle of revenge.
    • Played straight with Balderan and his gang of rapists, thieves, and murderers in the final book. After all but one of them are killed by an angry mob, their bodies are carried into the mountains and left to the mercies of scavenging animals. note 
  • The Malloreon mentions that Urgit, King of Cthol Murgos, did this to his father, the Axe-Crazy Taur Urgas. There was no love lost between Taur Urgas and Urgit; the former considered the latter a useless weakling and encouraged his siblings to attempt to kill him.note  So when Taur Urgas died, Urgit slit his throat, hammered a stake through his heart, and buried him seventeen feet underground - face-down. And then he stampeded cattle over the gravesite, ensuring that no one would ever know where Taur Urgas was buried.
    • After Naradas dies and his crimes are revealed to the king of Perivor (whom he was manipulating), the king yanks away the fancy burial shroud Naradas was wrapped in and orders him wrapped in the most disgusting cloth anyone can find, to be buried face-down in an unmarked grave.
  • Stinger: Downplayed, but Noah Twilley, who wanted to study insects but is stuck running the family funeral home, buried his father in "the hottest plot" in the cemetery as an act of spite and plans to do the same to his emotionally abusive mother when she dies.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the second season of The Musketeers, the Queen prevents anyone from respectfully closing the eyes of the dead Count Rochefort, who among a whole lot of other evil things attempted to rape her.
  • In the Star Trek franchise, this is the fate of Klingons who die as cowards, meaning that they can't ascend to Sto-Vo-Kor.
  • Rome. Gaia makes a Deathbed Confession that she murdered Pullo's wife Eirene to be with him. Pullo, who up to that point had been distraught that Gaia was dying as well, strangles her to death in a rage and then dumps her body in the river. To the Ancient Romans, this was a way of damning someone. Without proper funeral rites, their soul would be unable to enter the underworld and they would be stuck in limbo for all eternity.
  • Downplayed with Detective Steve Crossetti on Homicide: Life on the Street. Whilst he didn't commit a crime nor was he hated by his fellow detectives, since he had taken his own life, the police department denied him a proper funeral usually given to a fallen officer. In the end, as his casket went by in the funeral procession, Pembleton honorably saluted him.

  • The Bible:
    • This happens to a few kings of Judah in Book Of Chronicles. Most kings were buried in rock tombs near their ancestors. Jehoram is not buried with the other kings due to being rather nasty, and Azariah/Uzziah is buried in a field due to being a leper.
    • For the king of Babylon in Isaiah 14:19-20:
      All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory,
      each one in his own tomb;
      but you are cast out of your grave
      like an abominable branch
      and clothed with those who are slain,
      thrust through with a sword,
      who go down to the stones of the pit
      as a corpse trodden underfoot.
      You shall not be joined with them in burial
      because you have destroyed your land
      and slain your people.
  • The word "Gehenna," which was later conceptualized as a Fire and Brimstone Hell was a real place, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. It was a place where garbage and human waste were dumped and incinerated, and the same was done to the bodies of executed criminals.

  • In the roleplay Tamrielic Adventures, after Hodor and his group of Nords attack Kelessa, Rosa, and the shipwreck survivors, Hodor's dead body is beheaded by Kelessa, and they do not bury him or his allies.

  • In Hamlet, a good portion of Act V, Scene I consists of debate over whether Ophelia, who most likely drowned herself, deserves a full Christian burial (as Christianity considers killing oneself just as sinful as killing someone else). The scene starts with two gravediggers arguing over it. During the actual burial, when her brother Laertes, disappointed with the sparseness of the proceedings, asks "What ceremony else?" the priest replies that she's only getting a cemetery plot at all because the king ordered it.
  • In Antigone, King Creon orders that the body of Polyneices (who had attacked the city to claim kingship) should be left unburied as a means of punishing him. Antigone, the sister of Polyneices, does not agree with this and seeks to bury her brother in defiance of Creon's edict.
  • In Giulio Cesare in Egitto by George Frederic Handel, the body of Achillas, the Egyptian commander, is thrown by Sextus into the sea. Achillas did work for the Romans' enemy before and especially take part in the murder of Sextus' father, but Sextus completely ignores the fact that he had defected to the good side and had just given him, Sextus, the commander's sigil which is the only means to save his mother.

    Video Games 
  • In Conquests of the Longbow, Robin and his men will usually bury anyone they kill and have Friar Tuck perform the funeral rites. The only exception is the guard who attempts to rape a peasant woman for non-payment of her taxes; if you kill him, Robin will order his body to be left out for the wolves and ravens.
  • In Crusader Kings II, a pope who dies with the "Wicked Priest" trait will trigger an event where his corpse is put on trial for his crimes. This was inspired by the real-life Cadavar Synod, described below.
  • In Red Dead Redemption II, you can visit the graves of gang members who die over the course of (or shortly before) the story, to pay your respects. The exception is Molly O'Shea, who is executed as a traitor late in the game when she drunkenly claims to be The Mole. Her body is cremated rather than buried, so there's no grave to visit.

    Western Animation 
  • This is played with in an episode of Rocko's Modern Life, "The Lounge Singer". Filbert is so afraid of singing badly that he imagines everyone will always hate him for his failure as a singer (all he did was cough "a-hem"), to the point where his favorite celebrity desecrates his grave.

    Real Life 
  • In the United Kingdom, there was once a tradition of burying executed criminals, and people who had committed suicidenote , at a crossroads instead of in consecrated ground in a cemetery. The idea being that this would prevent their spirit from finding their way home and haunting the living. This also led to superstitions that crossroads were cursed or haunted, by the lost spirits of such people.
  • Oliver Cromwell, who took control of the British Isles (as the English Commonwealth) after deposing King Charles I and executing him in 1649, himself died in 1658. The next year, the monarchy was restored. The new monarch, King Charles II (Charles I's son), had Cromwell and two other high-ranking deceased Commonwealth officials exhumed. The corpses were subjected to posthumous execution, where they were hanged for a full day, then beheaded. Their severed heads were put on display over Westminster Hall for over 20 years. Cromwell's head would be in several modes of display for centuries until it was finally re-buried in 1960.
  • In medieval England, criminals were sometimes hanged, drawn, and quartered, after which their body parts would be displayed as a deterrent to others, rather than receiving a proper burial. Most infamously, this was the intended fate of Guy Fawkes for his part in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605note , re-enacted — with dummies known as "guys", obviously — in the British Isles every 5th of November.
  • In pre-industrial Europe, actors were denied burial in church grounds.
  • Plot E of Oise-Aisne American Cemetery in France contains the bodies of American servicemen who were executed for rape, murder, or both. They're officially referred to as "the dishonored dead". Plot E is across the street from the main cemetery, hidden behind hedges and thick forest, and is not included in any official maps or guidebooks, with the only way to access it being the back door of the superintendent's office. No American flags are permitted to fly there, and the numbered graves literally lie with their backs turned to the main cemetery on the other side of the road. The graves themselves have tiny numbered grave markers with no names — and only a single small granite cross at the top end of the plot — and without some form of guide, it's supposed to be impossible to determine who is buried where. Nevertheless, Plot E is still maintained like any other cemetery would, and a full catalogue of the plot's burials does exist, revealing a wealth of information on the buried and their crimes.
  • The Cadaver Synod of Pope Formosus by Pope Stephen VI. The late Pope Formosus was exhumed, put on trial for perjury, and illegally serving as a bishop while a layman, buried in a graveyard for foreigners. Then exhumed again and, with weights tied around his corpse, thrown into the Tiber. This backfired on Stephen, who was eventually deposed, imprisoned, and assassinated. The Synod was eventually overturned, the body recovered and returned to its proper place.
  • Back in the days when the Catholic Church had far more influence than they do now, and when church and state were largely indistinguishable, being excommunicated was Serious Business. Someone who had broken a Church law was not allowed to receive Communion (and in many cases, not allowed to worship, and ostracized from even the secular community), not allowed to marry in the Church, and not allowed to have a Catholic funeral or even be buried in a Catholic cemetery (which at the time, may have been the only cemetery around). It was also believed that they could not get into Heaven.
  • Right up through World War I, "prone burials" were used to shame deceased who weren't liked, or had done something wrong.
  • The grave of Nancy Green, a woman who died in 1850 at the age of 26 or 27, has the epitaph "IDIOT." To make it worse, this was the family burial plot, indicating that a relative did this.
  • Child rapist and Moors Murderer Ian Brady was so hated for both his crimes and his continued torment of the mother of one of his victims by deliberately not revealing the location of his body that when he finally did the decent thing and went to take his place in the Lake Of Fire in 2017, no undertaker was remotely interested in accepting his body for disposal; and the local councils of the areas he had been associated with in life blanched at the prospect of his body or ashes finding their final resting place in their borders. Brady's will stated he wanted to have his ashes scattered on the Yorkshire Moors where he and his partner, Myra Hindley, disposed of the bodies of the children whom they sadistically tortured, sexually assaulted, and murdered; an appalling prospect for reasons that should be blindingly obvious. In the end, the courts had to rule that it was acceptable to deny Brady a funeral and dump his ashes in the sea at night, once they found a crematorium willing to take on the task of getting rid of him. The judge also ruled that Brady's choice of musical send-off note  would not be played at any point during the disposal of the body.
  • Similarly, when Myra Hindley — the partner and murder accomplice of the aforementioned Ian Brady — died fifteen years prior of bronchial pneumonia in 2002, only a small congregation of eight to ten people (and no one from her family) attended her funeral. The service was very short, with no Hymns being sung or eulogy given, and reportedly, over twenty local undertakers refused to have anything to do with the disposal of Hindley's remains. Her ashes would ultimately be scattered in secret four months later (by a different ex-partner) in a country park less than 10 milesnote  from Saddleworth Moor, where Hindley and Brady's horrific crimes took place. Once this was discovered, there were legitimate fears that the park would be avoided or vandalized because Hindley's final resting place unwillingly ended up being there.
  • When the first Black U.S. Army regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, was defeated in the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, 29 dead Black soldiers were dumped in a mass grave by the Confederates, and their White commander, Col. Robert Gould Shaw, was dumped in with them. When asked for the return of Shaw's body, Confederate Brigadier General Johnson Hagood said, "We buried him with his n***s." Shaw's father responded in a letter, "We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company." Shaw and his fallen soldiers were eventually exhumed and re-buried together in individual graves at nearby Beaufort National Cemetery once the war ended and the Americans could get to their grave.
  • When Jimmy Savile died in 2011, he, as one of the most beloved figures in British television at the time, received the kind of funeral that one might expect for a member of the Royal Family or a prime minister, complete with a burial in a prominent scenic spot renamed ("Savile's View") for him. However, nearly a year later, allegations that he had sexually abused minors, the disabled, and the dead throughout his five-decade career came to light. Everything that had been named in his honor was quickly taken down. His massive headstone, which had the very uncomfortable epitaph "It Was Good While It Lasted", was removed after only three weeks and sent to a landfill for destruction, leaving him in an unmarked grave.
  • Serial killer Fred West died of suicide whilst on remand alongside his wife Rosemary, for a string of brutal sexually-motivated torture-murders of at least twelve young women and girls, including some of their own children. None of his family — from whom he was already estranged before his and his wife's horrific deeds came to light — turned up at the funeral. While it did take place, West's funeral lasted five minutes with no Hymns being sung, and its minister gave him no eulogy. Instead, he simply read from the 23rd Psalm and stated that West's life should serve as a cautionary tale; ending with the solemn warning to the few present to "Remember everyone else who has also suffered because of these tragic events".
  • Lee Harvey Oswald, the most generally agreed-upon suspect of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, was himself shot to death just two days after the assassination. He was buried on the same day as the late President, but the search for willing cemeteries was rather more difficult for him. When one in nearby Fort Worth, Texas agreed, a Lutheran reverend reluctantly agreed to officiate but then failed to appear. Reverend Louis Saunders of the Fort Worth Council of Churches volunteered, saying that "someone had to help this family". With very few guests, reporters covering the funeral were then asked to serve as pallbearers. His original tombstone — which gave his full name, birth date, and death date — was stolen four years after the assassination, and his mother replaced it with a marker simply inscribed "Oswald".
  • Musician Ike Turner, the former bandmate and ex-husband of Tina Turner who was later discredited when his history of Domestic Abuse became public, received the following headline from The New York Post upon his death in December 2007: "Ike Turner Beats Tina to Death!". Tina would ultimately outlive him by nearly 16 years, passing away in May 2023.
  • Dee Dee Blanchard abused her daughter Gypsy Rose for years and pretended she was severely disabled in order to get money and sympathy, even having unnecessary surgeries performed on her. When Gypsy's boyfriend Nicolas Godejohn murdered Dee Dee, none of her family members would pay for her funeral, and her father and stepmother flushed her ashes down the toilet.

Alternative Title(s): Dishonoured Dead