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But who are these? for with joint pace I hear

The tread of many feet stearing this way;

Perhaps my enemies who come to stare

At my affliction, and perhaps to insult,

Their daily practice to afflict me more.
John Milton, Samson Agonistes

A character is exhibited for ridicule—while still alive. Special garments, signs with the proclamation of the offense, or even nudity may be enforced. Menial labor may be required. Rotten fruit may be thrown, but the character usually finds the staring humiliation enough. Perhaps even a Fate Worse Than Death. Pride makes it worse, but no one really enjoys it.

In Real Life, the pillory and the stocks were designed for this, but cages, chains, and even just guards may be used to keep the prisoner in place, or on the route of his enforced procession. It was particularly common in colonial societies, who often couldn't afford the loss of man-power that would come with an extended imprisonment or execution. Though a Public Execution may have this as an added blow to the death.

Conversely, characters may come to gawk at a prisoner, for much the same effect. When the character has been Made a Slave, auction may bring this on, even worsened by the fact that the purchasers don't care how humiliated the character is.

A defeated or demoralized character, even if not a captive, may greet another with this as a Stock Phrase, with accusations of coming to gawk at his shame, with snarls of Don't You Dare Pity Me!, even if the other character wants only to help. He may demand Get It Over With to avoid the gawking. Similarly if his Pride convinces him that they came to gloat when they did not even know he was there.

The threat of this trope may lead characters to Better to Die Than Be Killed or Leave Behind a Pistol.

Compare Dead Guy on Display, which can be the same thing for a corpse.

If the gawkers spontaneously show up to mock someone over accidental embarrassments, you're dealing with The Freelance Shame Squad. The comedic equivalent is Pass the Popcorn.

Examples of Come to Gawk include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Rose of Versailles when Jeanne Valois is publicly branded as a criminal, many spectators came to gawk at her.
  • In Umineko no Naku Koro ni Beatrice forces Battler in a Heroic BSOD to parade around nude and be used as furniture in front of a pack of goat-servants. Shortly afterwards, he's devoured.

Comic Books

  • In the X Wing Series comics, the self-appointed new Emperor, Sate Pestage, fled the Empire to save his life. He'd been planning to strike a deal with the Rebel Alliance / New Republic, sparing his life and giving him about thirty planets in exchange for leaving the Imperial capital undefended, but he was found out and captured. He was held in a prison, and the Rebels broke him out but couldn't flee offplanet with him yet, so they set up camp. While he was there, an ex-Imperial pilot who had defected came to visit him.

 Pestage: Come to see if I was okay, or is your visit a harbinger of trouble?

Fel: I just came to see how far the mighty had fallen. I had to remind myself you're a man like any other.

Pestage: Is that it, or are you here to gloat over my misfortune?

  • In Alan Moore's Batman story The Killing Joke, Jim Gordon is locked naked in a cage with a bunch of carnival freaks staring at him while The Joker makes a speech about how frail and pathetic man is, in an attempt to drive Gordon insane.
    • Also a Moment Of Awesome for Gordon, since it doesn't work.


  • Freaks—being about a freak show
  • The climax of the 1930 German film The Blue Angel has the main character, a once proud (too proud) professor, dressed up as a clown and forced to crow like a rooster in front of a crew of his former colleagues, students, and neighbours. It's an incredibly difficult scene to watch. Then he goes berserk.
  • The reason the Beast is so nasty to Belle's dad at the beginning of Beauty and the Beast is he assumes he came "to stare at the Beast!"
  • Near the end of A Knight's Tale, Will is locked up in the pillory and the crowds that had previously cheered him on in the jousts come to laugh at him and throw rotten food. His friends show up, intending to shame them into stopping. They get pelted with food, too.
  • 1932 version of Murders in the Rue Morgue starts out with the mains character wandering through a kind of exhibit show featuring (among other things) Middle-eastern belly-dancers, Apache warriors, and a gorilla.
  • The premise for The Elephant Man.
  • Robin Hood: Men in Tights:

  King Richard: Take him away! Wait, wait-- put him in the Tower of London. Make him part of the tour.

  • When Quasimodo is chosen as King of Fools in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, at first the people celebrate him, but then a guard throws a tomato and the rest of the crowd turns against him. Frollo, angry that Quasi disobeyed him by leaving the cathedral, lets this go on until Esmeralda saves him.


  • The blinded Samson is humiliated by the Philistines exhibiting him.
    • Obviously, in John Milton's Samson Agonistes, too.
    • Um, Jesus? Forced to carry the cross, then get nailed to it? Being a carpenter, the professional humiliation would've been terrible.
      • Forget being a carpenter, just being a Jew made crucifixion a horrifyingly shameful way to die. The Torah says, "God's curse is on the one who hangs on a tree." Of course, in Jesus' case, it's entirely intentional. How else was He supposed to take on the curse of the world's sins?
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40000 novel Brothers of the Snake, when Priad visits Khiron in his cell and tells him that he had come to see him, Khiron believes it curiosity and flares with anger. Priad apologizes; he had actually hoped to have Khiron as his squad Apocathery.
  • In the Aubrey-Maturin books, Jack is pilloried. However, sailors who've fought alongside him or respect him as a war hero, travel from all over the country to surround Jack from the mob.
    • This is based on a Real Life incident with Admiral Thomas Cochrane, Jack's prototype. Cochrane got involved in a stocks scandal and was convicted and pilloried. The public outrage after this sentence (he was a rather popular figure) was so loud that it actually became one of the main reasons for the abolition of pillory in the UK.
  • Quasimodo in the stocks in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
  • In Stephen Hunt's The Court Of The Air, the figurehead/scapegoat king is regularly displayed on balconies for the crowd to pelt with rubbish; a coronation starts with sending the new king around to many towns to be displayed and pelted.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter opens with Hester Prynne standing on a pillory before the crowd as part of her punishment.
  • In Corambis, Kay is put on display in public after he's blinded and forced to surrender his army.
  • In The Sword-Edged Blonde, when the queen is accused of murder, the detective protagonist recommends that the king sentence her to public humiliation while the detective tries to find the person who framed her.
  • On Barrayar, the punishment for Vors who commit treason is public exposure until they starve to death. At one point, Aral Vorkosigan discusses how the Vor was usually given a chance to commit suicide, but if it came to that, he'd go through with it.
  • In Andre Norton's Ice Crown, Nelis Imfry is exposed in a cage as punishment.
  • In The Scar by China Mieville, the Brucolac is hung up atop a ship's mast and left there. Being a vampire, he is slowly dying of exposure to sunlight before he is finally taken down.
  • In H. Beam Piper's Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen, the priests of Styphon are allowed to recant their service; part of the ritual devised is having them parade before crowds, who are allowed to throw fruit at them.
  • In JRR Tolkien's Return of the King, when the main characters meet him on the road, Saruman accuses Galadriel of having deliberately brought them "to gloat over my poverty."
  • In Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn novel Malleus, the triumph includes displaying prisoners taken in the crusade—including, alas, psykers.
  • In Watership Down, poor Blackavar is made to stand on display as an example to the other rabbits after he gets his ears shredded for trying to flee the totalitarian Efraffa.
  • In The Confidence Man, passengers on the boardwalk come to just watch the crippled man from New Guinea, who is actually just one of the avatars of a Con Man who is painted up to look that way.
  • Kylar from The Night Angel Trilogy enjoys a bit of this after being sentenced to death for regicide in order to help his friend gain the throne. Unfortunately, there was a famine going on, so the crowd only had rocks.
  • In Choke, the main character and his buddy work in a Colonial Williamsburg-esque town which punishes loafing employees by making them sit in the stocks all day.
  • In Adrian Tchaikovsky's Salute the Dark, Thalric is exposed, like other prisoners, when taken to Capitas. The guards do not prevent their being attacked and beaten by the crowds.
  • In The Pillars of the Earth, Remigius asks this to Philip when he's wandering the streets as a beggar. Instead, Philip offers to take him back (as a novice).


  • The Miley Cyrus music video for "Can't Be Tamed", features her as a Winged Humanoid locked in a cage and stared at by rich snobs.
  • Part of the Knights of Cydonia video includes the hero being placed in stocks and having feces hurled at him.

Live Action TV

  • This is the subtext of the second season of Veronica Mars: when a parent commits a crime, their children have to walk the walk of shame. In "Ain't No Magic Mountain High Enough", Jackie is volunteered to sit as target in the water balloon carnival booth, in a bikini, being pelted with cold water by people who hate her.
  • Referenced by Mystery Science Theater 3000 when they watched the short "Junior Rodeo Daredevils". After one youngster loses a competition and throws his hat in the air in frustration:

 Joel: Go ahead! Strip me of my dignity at age four! What are you looking aaaaat?!

  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Most Toys," Data is captured by a greedy alien collector named Kivas Fajo who wants him as a centerpiece for his series of unique and valuable items (being the only sentient android in existence). By putting Data into his collection, and showing him off to other thieves, Fajo is using him for a Come to Gawk purpose, claiming it's okay since Data has no emotions and therefore can't find his imprisonment distasteful. At the end of the episode of course, Data is returned to the Enterprise and Fajo is locked up in the brig, his collection of stolen items being returned to their owners. When Data comes by to watch him in the brig, Fajo asks him if he's enjoying watching him being kept captive by the Enterprise, only for Data to reply that as an android, he finds no pleasure in such things.
  • In Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry has to wear a sign saying he's a shoplifter after he borrows silverware from a restaurant to feed his limo driver.
  • In Blackadder the Second, Percy is put on the spot for a means to get information from the wife of a condemned man (It's a Long Story), and using his limited wit comes up with the idea of accusing her of being a "Gloater": a person who manipulates their way into cells with prisoners purely to gawk and gloat over them. The plan works, but Edmund still reprimands him for coming up with such a ploy.
  • In Parks and Recreation, Ron explains that he's not at an organic food store to buy anything. "I'm here for the same reason people go to zoos."



 Thou, an Egyptian puppet, shall be shown

In Rome as well as I: mechanic slaves,

With greasy aprons, rules, and hammers, shall

Uplift us to the view

    • In Henry VI, Part 2, Eleanor Duchess of Gloucester is subjected to public penance after being accused of witchcraft: Enter the Duchess barefoot in a white sheet, with verses pinned upon her back and a taper burning in her hand, with the Sheriff and Officers and Sir John Stanley. A crowd following.

 For whilst I think I am thy married wife

And thou a prince, protector of this land,

Methinks I should not thus be led along,

Mail'd up in shame, with papers on my back,

And followed with a rabble that rejoice

To see my tears and hear my deep-fet groans.

The ruthless flint doth cut my tender feet,

And when I start, the envious people laugh

And bid me be advised how I tread.


 Prometheus: Ha! what has brought thee?

Hast thou also come

To look upon my woe?

  • In Electra, Clytemnestra actually seems to enjoy provoking Electra in her fallen state.

Video Games


 Maya: Nick? Should we laugh?

Phoenix: No, it's a trap. If we laugh, he'll get mad... or burst into tears.

  • In Deus Ex, when the player character is in jail, one of the Quirky Miniboss Squad comes to gloat.
  • This is also Tromell's reaction in Final Fantasy X if you return to Guadosalam late in the game. "Come to kill me? I welcome it. Or are you here to laugh? Laugh at the fallen Guado?"

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • The "Bushido" episode of Gargoyles had Goliath, Bronx, Angela and several gargoyles of the Ishimura clan abducted to be made part of a gargoyles theme park.
  • In Avatar: the Last Airbender, thirteen-year-old Prince Zuko's Agni Kai against his father could be seen as a particularly horrifying example of this. Zuko's kneeling, tears, and desperate pleas for forgiveness were all watched silently by a crowd of hundreds after he was tricked into a duel with the Fire Lord, and some individuals could be seen wearing creepily satisfied expressions when he got the scar.

Real Life

  • Sadly, this HAS been Truth in Television. Mostly, indigenous natives were brought over to more developed countries and put on display for everything from "study" to...well, entertainment. Needless to say, this was Values Dissonance Up to Eleven.
    • Ota Benga was, after slavers killed his wife and children, made to perform at several events (including the Louisiana Purchase Exposition). In 1906, they put him in the Monkey House at the Bronx Zoo for demonstration, where he shot targets with a bow and arrow and wrestled with orangutans. They made him an "interactive" exhibit two days later, walking the grounds where people could physically and verbally abuse him as they pleased. Needless to say, he took this poorly and became violently depressed. Ten years later, he committed suicide.
    • Saartjie Baartman was forced to exhibit herself around Europe, often nude to show off her "inhuman features" (partially due to being born with a condition that prompted enlargement of the lower regions, but you get the idea). Her owner and his brother had sent her from colonial South Africa with a promise of half the profits. When the public lost interest, she was forced into prostitution, and died possibly of smallpox at age 26.
  • Recently coming to be considered a valid form of punishment again, especially in the United States, where public humiliation may not just be an intended (if unofficial) side effect of a conviction, but actually constitute the sentence itself.
    • In the criminal justice community this is actually gaining popularity as a form of what's called "restorative justice" since there have been studies that show that shame is an important part of both preventing crime in the first place and preventing recidivism, and throwing people in prison has become glorified in some subcultures, so expect to see more of this sort of thing. It fell out of favor with the rise of easy mass transportation (who cares if you spent a day in the stocks if you can easily move to a location no one has ever heard of you), and come back with the information-spreading properties of the internet.
      • Stephen Levitt discusses a creative example that has found some use in his discussions over incentives. Rather than fining pimps, prostitutes, and johns, the local authorities would post their convictions to a website. Levitt asks what would be more powerful incentive to avoid prostitution: a $500 USD fine or one's friends, family, and coworkers seeing you on
    • Used in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. Couples accused of miscegenation would be forced to stand outside holding signs describing their "crime". Later on in the Nazi regime, things got much, much worse.
  • In Rome, part of a triumph given to a triumphant general was a parade of their more important prisoners (as alluded to in Antony & Cleopatra above). They treated the prisoners fairly well until the triumph - after which they were executed. Circumstances sometimes meant that there was quite a gap between the campaign and the triumph, such as Caesar's triumph from Gaul which was interrupted by a minor political difficulty.
  • One Psychologist described it as the "Freakshow principle" where people go out of their way to see things like the Jerry Springer Show, Cops and other trainwrecks like that solely so they can comfort themselves knowing they aren't as freaky as those people and boost their self-esteem.
  • HL Mencken's savage little Take That:

 Q: If you find so much that is unworthy of reverence in the United States, then why do you live here?

A: Why do men go to zoos?