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Edmund Eyre's The Maid ofNormandy, or, Charlotte Corday in Anglo-Irish Docudrama Wendy C. Nielsen Jacques-Louis David's famous portrait, The Death ofMarat (La Mort deMarat, 1793),garners Charlotte Cordays assassination ofJean-Paul Marat attention in art history. However, theater critics have not sufficiently explored the wealth of European plays that stage this dramatic event. Scholars knowverylittle about dramas depicting Charlotte Corday and Marat since in the 1790s theywere performed outside ofLondon or in unlicensed playhouses.Yet a trail ofnewspaper accounts and dramatizations ofCorday's story in France,England, and Ireland demonstrates a shared set ofpreoccupations with gender and violence. Dramatists outside of France persisted in drawing parallels between the assassination of Marat and the beheading of Marie Antoinette. Examining the reactions of contemporary Anglophone audiences to this French political event, this paper focuses on Edmund John Eyre's (1767-1816) play The Maid ofNormandy; or, the Death ofthe Queen ofFrance (1794/1804). Eyre's play, first performed in Dublin, Ireland, in 1794, was denied a license by the English censor owing to its open references to God and events in France, the very elements that most appealed to Irish audiences . Irish vicar Matthew West even plagiarized Eyre's play as a closet drama, FemaleHeroism, a Tragedyin FiveActs Founded on Revolutionary Events that Occurred in France in the Summer and Autumn of 1793 (1803). Anglo-Irish translations of Marat's assassin carry with them a specifically French mode of performance because docudramas that chronicle the French Revolution cannot escape its embedded theatricality and rely on dramatic allegory. In the case of Charlotte Corday, they 169 170Comparative Drama reproduce the hagiography of Liberty, the woman who sacrifices love and life for her country. Not surprisingly, Corday's assassination of Marat produced a frenzied and spectacular afterlife.Marie-Anne Charlotte de Cordayd'Armont (1768-93) assassinated the Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat on 13 July 1793 during the height of the Terror. Corday origninally planned a theatrical setting for the murder, on the stage of the National Convention on Bastille Day, but Marat's illness forced her to commit the assassination a day early. Bound to a bathtub owing to a skin condition he caught whileliving underground,Marat nevertheless continued to write thevery incendiary rhetoric that so angered Corday in his journal The Friend of the People (L'Ami dupeuplé). Corday showed him a list ofcounterrevolutionary conspirators from her hometown and then stabbed him with a six-inch kitchen knife. When accounts of Corday's trial and execution spread rapidly through France and abroad, contemporaries asked questions about gender and power—about how they could be tied inextricably .1 How could a twenty-five-year-old from Normandy assassinate one ofthe leading political figures ofParis? To answer this question, doctors looked for evidence of sex; they examined her body but found it was virginal. In contrast to the Jacobin authorities' suspicions, Corday did not have a male lover to assist her in stabbing Marat. Fact and fiction became interchangeable in accounts about Corday, and these dramatic elements made her an attractive subject for media across Europe. Corday contributed to her own dramatization bywriting an "Address to the French" that evoked Brutus from the third act of Voltaire's tragedy The Death ofCaesar (La Mort de César, 1733), and by citing in a letter to her father,published in Parisian and English papers,a verse from her great-great grandfather, the playwright Pierre Corneille (1606-84).2AfterCorday's decapitation onthe guillotine,theexecutioner slapped her severed head, which purportedly blushed. British newspapers relished the opportunityto write about the French in theatrical terms, and docudramas used newspapers, in turn,to reconstruct recent history. Mainstreammedia reported news from France in dramatic style,as shown in this London Times report on Corday's trial: Hérault announced that the Minister of the Home Department had received information from Calvados, that there was a plot to assassinate Wendy C. Nielsen171 him. It seems, says he, there is a sort of correspondence between this letter from Calvados, and Charlotte Cordé, and her conductor Duperret—[Loud murmurs].3 Corday's trial attempted to ascertain who her accomplices were, but although attention shifted among several male suspects, she...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 169-190
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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