Marie-Antoinette: A Citizen Queen

Most of us have heard of Marie-Antoinette, queen of France, married to Louis XVI when just a child of 15, and known for being frivolous, wasteful, and extravagant.

 Marie Antoinette at the age of thirteen; this miniature portrait was sent to the Dauphin to show him what his future bride looked like (by  Joseph Ducreux , 1769)

Marie Antoinette at the age of thirteen; this miniature portrait was sent to the Dauphin to show him what his future bride looked like (by Joseph Ducreux, 1769)

In The Revolutionists playing at Town Hall Theatre, Sep 27-Oct 20, 2018, the deposed Queen Marie-Antoinette, could really use better press, and minor revisionist history. She seeks the help of playwright Olympe De Gouges and makes an unexpected friend along the way…. Playwright, Lauren Gunderson, portrays Marie as a sympathetic figure with “crazy-ass” characteristics and an instinct to be “unexpectedly profound”.

 Marie Antoinette, Queen of France,  en grand habit de cour  (by Jean-Baptiste-André Gautier-Dagoty, 1775)

Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, en grand habit de cour (by Jean-Baptiste-André Gautier-Dagoty, 1775)

After eight years of marriage, Marie Antoinette gave birth to a daughter, Marie Thérèse, the first of her four children. Despite her initial popularity, a growing number of the population eventually came to dislike her, accusing her of being promiscuous, and of harboring sympathies for France's enemies, particularly her native Austria. During the Revolution, she became known as Madame Déficit because the country's financial crisis was blamed on her lavish spending and her opposition to the social and financial reforms.

Marie-Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake”. There is no evidence she ever uttered it, and it is now generally regarded as a "journalistic cliché". The Claim is that she said it during a famine; the quote acquired symbolic importance as pro-revolutionary historians wanted to show obliviousness and selfishness of the upper classes. At that time, bread made up about 50% of the peasant and working class income and was of great interest and importance.

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During the Revolution, after the government had placed the royal family under house arrest in the Tuileries Palace, they later had the family imprisoned in the Temple. In 1792, the monarchy was abolished. After a two-day trial, Marie Antoinette was convicted by the Revolutionary Tribunal of high treason and executed by guillotine on the Place de la Révolution, October 1793.

 Marie Antoinette on her way to the guillotine (pen and ink by  Jacques-Louis David , 16 October 1793)

Marie Antoinette on her way to the guillotine (pen and ink by Jacques-Louis David, 16 October 1793)

 Marie Antoinette's execution on 16 October 1793: Sanson, the executioner, showing Marie Antoinette's head to the people (anonymous, 1793)

Marie Antoinette's execution on 16 October 1793: Sanson, the executioner, showing Marie Antoinette's head to the people (anonymous, 1793)

“Marie is less badass but fascinating former queen of France. Sugary, graceful, totally unaware, unintentionally rude, and oddly prescient. Never had a real friend. Marie is more like a sail in the wind, being pushed around as the weather changes. She is hilarious. We know the most about her because history has told us to laugh at her so we will. But her true drive in this play is almost entirely personal for her. She is aware of politics but does not feel impacted by them. She has been resilient until now, what could possibly change?” ~Lauren Gunderson

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Suzie Shepard plays Marie Antoinette in The Revolutionists at Town Hall Theatre

Marie-Antoinette…

Before her head rolls,

she needs better press,

a friend,

or perhaps just a title that says, “She’s innocent!”

Susan Evans