The cage, my good people, is your very understandable desire for retribution. Most of you speak as if you are quite clear and unambiguous on the topic of retribution. The phrase "an eye for an eye," with its source in one of your holy texts, is often cited. And yet, as often as you cite it, you seem to be seized by some sort of pusillanimousness when it comes to carrying out this exact sort of matching of crime to punishment. Not all of you, I am well aware! There are those among you who would enthusiastically inflict the exact death on a condemned murderer that he inflicted on his victim! And among those are the special few who would willingly do it with their own hands! You have my approval, the latter group in particular!! I would give you special positions, privileges and immunities in my own court. No, it is to the rest of you, wishing retribution but quivering with ambiguity, that I address my clarifying, purifying thoughts. Those of you who have no desire for retribution--strange, exotic, misconceived creatures that you are, like someone born without an arm, a leg, eyes, or a tongue--not even I can help you.
Lest you think that I was entirely without mercy in the matter of the condemned, consider this: there was a time in the history of my civilization--perhaps a thousand or so years before my own reign--when to be even a distant relative of a condemned murderer (or traitor!) was to be put to death oneself. Not only would the condemned's father, mother and wife die by execution, but the father's, mother's and wife's families would meet that fate as well! Even the families of concubines, if the condemned was such a well-heeled or high-born sort as to have concubines, could be put to death! This practice, though intriguing and time-honored, seemed....shall we say, unnecessary, even wasteful, and I forbade it.
Except, of course, in special cases.
There was, however, even within that tradition, an aspect of mercy: The method of execution differed for the peripheral condemned--the fathers, mothers, and so forth--from that for the actual murderer or traitor. For him, death was by beheading. A ghastly spectacle, sure to attract a thirsty howling mob to witness it, an insult to the body, the ultimate disgrace, multiplied ten thousand times by being made public, a defilement that would follow him into the afterlife, where he would spurt blood forever and speak only gibberish through a gurgling, ragged hole! A second death, if you will! His old mother and father, by contrast, would be dispatched by strangulation, leaving their bodies, and therefore their ghosts, intact. They only died once. Is that or is that not the very definition of mercy?
Though I banned the general practice of condemning a murderer's or traitor's relatives (unless I myself deemed it appropriate), I retained that merciful aspect I described: a different variety of death for different varieties of condemned prisoners. I believe that you in your recent centuries have devised a system recognizing different degrees of murder (you seem to have left off executing traitors, at least since the middle of the 20th century; perhaps you will return to the practice in due time), the most serious of which is the one that involves planning and intent. Lesser degrees of murder are those that occur spontaneously when passions erupt, or through lethal negligence. I am gratified to say that there was a similar system of differentiation in my time! Fair, sensible, merciful people agree, no matter the time or the place! In my day, the intentful murderer--the one who planned, schemed, plotted--died by beheading. He who killed another in a brawl, a fit of jealousy, a spontaneous rage, died mercifully, by strangulation! As did those you now call "accessories" to murder or treason--those who hid facts, covered up, kept secrets. Or he who failed to turn a murderer or traitor in to the authorities. The latter was a capital crime, with one crucial exception. Here is where your civilization and mine diverge. For us, filial piety transcended all else. He who turned his own father in for murder or treason transformed himself into a capital offender, thereby making himself eligible for beheading.
Pleasant as it is to reminisce, let us return to your modern executions. You, you fools, are ridiculous, with your hidden, soundproof execution room, your exclusive "guest list," your padded couch with fresh clean linens upon which the condemned lies, your sharp needles, your flowing, soothing chemicals, the first of which, so I understand, brings deep, dreamless sleep before the coup de grace is administered! Why, anyone would think that you are rewarding the condemned, giving him the sweet death that so many pray for: to exit this world in one's sleep. This is the death you should be bestowing on the best among you--heroes, saints, great leaders, the elderly.
Can you really not see it? You have been infected by your opposition, those who would deprive the world of capital punishment altogether. They have, increment by increment, robbed you of your purpose and resolve. They have succeeded in making you feel some sort of shame for the act of execution! Why else would you move further and further away, as you have, from the direct, vigorous methods you once employed--hanging, gassing, bullets (oh, how I envy you your bullets and your guns!), your marvelous "electric chair" (I would have had one carved from teak and inlaid with pearl!), and so forth. And why would you move the act of execution from the public square into secret rooms? Because your conviction has eroded away. You have become absurd, grotesque. You still want retribution, but you have become timid, polite, cowardly about it! You disgust me!
I say, either give in to your detractors, and cease the execution of criminals altogether, or assert yourselves with ferocity and clarity! Why tremble in a web of conflict when you cannot get the "right" chemicals to inject into the veins of the condemned? Why not simply say: Very well, let us use instead a tincture of snake or spider venom, a deadly fungus, a harsh corrosive, or one of the countless other brilliantly, colorfully lethal poisons supplied in abundance by nature? Perhaps you will then find the backbone to augment your methods with rope and bullets once more. Or even beheading!
And then, perhaps, you will cease depriving the public of the grand theater that is execution! Do you actually believe that your modern populace has lost the taste for public execution? Do you believe that citizens, even in your age of instant distant communications, would not travel hundreds, even thousands of miles, and pay vast quantities for front-row seats, for the privilege of being physically present among thousands of others to witness a well-run, well-staged execution?
Would you care to make a wager with the Iron Empress?