Marie Antoinette
a chronicle in two acts by
Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller
WIDOW — 38 years old. In Act I she appears at her trial and also, masked, portrays other characters. In Act II she portrays Marie Antoinette in her thirties.
GIRL — 15 years old. In Act I she plays Marie from the time of betrothal until the birth of her first child at age 23. In Act II she portrays other characters, masked.
PROSECUTOR — A man of indeterminate age, portraying the prosecutor Foquier-Tinville but dressed in modern coat and tie. Sits with electronic controls, speaks on mike as himself and periodically as the voice of shadow figures.
TWO MIMES — Behind rear projection screen, they create shadow effects against projected images and portray, in mime, characters such as DuBarry, Fersen, Count Mercy, Cardinal de Rohan, with voices supplied by others.
LOUIS XVI — A full-sized, articulated mannekin, operated by GIRL and WIDOW, manipulating his head and arm while standing behind him, in view, supplying his voice. Playwrights can supply plans for simple ball-joint head construction which allows very realistic movement. The theatrical metaphor is that this dead object gradually takes on recognizable life.
While the text might perhaps be cast conventionally, the suggested manner is an expression of the text’s metaphors: discrepancies of role and identity, reality as shadow fantasy, self-deception. We see Marie embodied realistically only at opposite poles of her life; between these, she is only “presented” by the actresses. Louis is a puppet, Marie’s lover a silhouette, her children dolls, her mother a mask, her prosecutor an anachronism, the Revolution a flurry of shadows.
The disembodied voices and sounds of the audiotape are integral to the production theme. Music may be drawn from the period or may be composed. A reference cassette is available from the playwrights.
There are extensive visual sources for events; the danger is not to overdo. The functions of projected images are (1) to make vivid the reality of characters portrayed by mask, shadow, and performer; (2) to give us the same sort of electronically controlled shadows by which to view historical events as we have today; and (3) to offer the aesthetic pleasure of changing textures and shapes.
In the Independent Eye production, very sophisticated effects were obtained through use of transparencies on an overhead projector (lamp controlled through a dimmer) and two Kodak Ektagraphic projectors on a simple dissolve unit. The rear projection screen—black when unlighted—was an inexpensive Rosco material, with an oval cutout providing a picture-frame shape. Mimes appeared sometimes as realistic shadow figures, sometimes moving masks, feathers, cutouts, or hands into the projector beams, sometimes creating effects on the glass surface of the overhead projector.
To obtain stylistic consistency with images from diverse sources, pictures were first photocopied black-and-white, often enlarged on the photocopier for a consistent degree of graininess, then either photographed for slides or photocopied on transparency film.
© 1987 Conrad Bishop & Elizabeth Fuller. All rights reserved.
For production information, contact WordWorkers, 800-357-6016 or E-mail.
Act One
A small picture-frame stage is flanked by two huge, corroded statues of 18th Century courtiers. Between them, a wrought-iron grillwork, suggesting the gates of Versailles or prison bars, cutting us off from the stage area: a cramped cell, with bench, stool, table and bed, and a black oval in the rear wall: a rear projection screen. Far down right, in front of the grillwork, a computerized lighting console, microphone and sound controls, and a period armchair.
PROSECUTOR enters, sits at console. Arranges book, presses button: lights.
Low, steady pulse. Tight light on WIDOW lying face down on bed. She answers by rote.
WIDOW: Marie Antoinette of Lorraine and Austria, widow of Louis Capet, sometime King of France.
Thirty-eight years of age.
PROSECUTOR: Place of arrest.
WIDOW: Arrest?
I am in care of the National Assembly. Lodged in the Temple.
PROSECUTOR: Is it not true that before the Revolution you conspired against France, sent millions to your brother the Emperor of Austria to pillage the nation that nourished you?
That you squandered the fortunes of France, the fruits of the sweat of the people, for your perverse pleasures?
That you seduced your husband to appoint nefarious charlatans as Ministers of State and exercise the veto against the people’s cry?
PROSECUTOR: Was it not you who taught Louis Capet the perfidy whereby he deceived the people of France?
WIDOW: It is true the people has been deceived. Not by me.
WIDOW: By those who profit by it.
PROSECUTOR: Who profits by this deception?
WIDOW: I do not know. Perhaps I am deceived.
PROSECUTOR: Plain answer please.
WIDOW: I would answer if I knew the names.
I am not my prosecutor. I do not know.
PROSECUTOR slams the book. Percussion, harpsichord and flute. In the oval, images of Vienna and the young Marie.
A shadow appears: a Dancing Master. GIRL in Viennese court dress appears behind prostrate WIDOW. She practices steps of a minuet. The shadow mimes instructions.
GIRL: Maria Antonia Josephina Johanna.
She dances, going back to start over. She is awkward, then gradually masters the figure.
Fifteenth child of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria.
My mother Queen of Hungary, Queen of Bohemia, wife of Emperor Francis Stephen of Lorraine, Francis First, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.
Born the Feast of All Saints, 1755, the day of the Lisbon earthquake.
Giggles. Dances.
PROSECUTOR: The 1756 treaty of Austria and France crowned Maria Theresa’s plan for an architecture of European alliance cemented by marriage.
The union of Bourbons and Hapsburgs would guarantee peace in Europe, conquest of Silesia and the partition of Poland.
The marriage: The elderly Louis Fifteen to an Austrian princess? Or the Austrian Joseph to a daughter of Louis? Or the French Dauphin to a daughter of Maria Theresa.
GIRL halts a moment, continues.
In this year, Britain declared war on France, Mozart was born, and the first German chocolate factory founded.
GIRL: (laughing) I was one year old.
PROSECUTOR: 1757: Attempt to assassinate the King. 58: Robespierre born. 59: Voltaire’s Candide.
1760: George the Third is King of England, and Edmund Hoyle lays down the rules for whist.
GIRL halts. To herself:
GIRL: My father, he stopped, rode back: “I must embrace this child once more.” Long hug. Then he rode off to die.
PROSECUTOR: 1762, 63: Russo-Prussian alliance against Austria, Benjamin Franklin improves the harmonica, Peace of Paris ends the Seven Years’ War.
GIRL halts. To herself:
GIRL: My mother. Always busy.
When ambassadors come, she hugs her children, to show her love.
PROSECUTOR: 1764: Mozart’s First Symphony. 65: British Stamp Act, the French Dauphin dies, his son becomes heir.
The potato is popular in Europe.
GIRL halts. To herself:
GIRL: My sister, one sister, went into the Capuchin vault, to pray for—
Someone was dead, she went into the tomb— And there she would dwell.
There she would.
PROSECUTOR: 1766: The Mason-Dixon Line is drawn. 67, 68: Little to note.
These years are often forgotten.
GIRL halts. To herself:
GIRL: My lower lip sticks out, my forehead bulges. No bosom yet.
I have nice teeth.
GIRL continues dancing, now masterfully. Images change: prints of the young Marie. GIRL loses the rhythm.
PROSECUTOR: 1769: Louis Fifteen of France agrees to a bride for his grandson Louis Auguste.
GIRL: Maria Antonia Josephina—
Maria Antonia Jo—
Exaggerated French pronunciation:
Ma-rie An-toi-nette. . .
Image: Marie Antoinette, gray-haired. WIDOW lifts head, cries out. Abrupt blood spatter on screen image. Blackout.
Lights. WIDOW, standing.
WIDOW: Marie Antoinette of Lorraine and Austria, thirty-eight years of age.
PROSECUTOR: Place of arrest.
WIDOW: Arrest? I am in care of the National Assembly.
PROSECUTOR: Is it not true that before the Revolution you sent millions to your brother the Emperor of Austria to pillage France?
That you squandered riches for pleasure?
That you seduced your husband to exercise the veto against the people’s cry?
PROSECUTOR: Was it not you who taught Louis Capet to deceive the people of France?
WIDOW: It is true the people has been deceived. Not by me.
WIDOW: By those who profit by it.
PROSECUTOR: Plain answer please.
WIDOW: I would answer if I knew the names. I do not know.
Crossfade. GIRL appears in place of WIDOW, playing with doll. PROSECUTOR speaks in manner of a strict but doting tutor. Music.
PROSECUTOR: Is it not true you dawdle at your lessons?
That you care only for dancing?
That you learn only if you find the lesson amusing?
PROSECUTOR: That you persuaded your tutor to trace your lesson in pencil so that you could ink it in?
GIRL: She said I shouldn’t think so hard. It strains the soul.
PROSECUTOR: You do not concentrate.
GIRL: Yes I do.
PROSECUTOR: Pay attention.
GIRL: What?
GIRL: Does Mama come today?
PROSECUTOR: The Empress comes to punish you.
GIRL: (to doll) The Empress comes to punish you.
PROSECUTOR: Again: the Papal Succession.
GIRL: (to doll) Name the Popes.
(as doll talking) Saint Peter. . . And all the rest.
She looks at him, giggles. Echoing footsteps. WIDOW appears, masked.
WIDOW: (as Maria Theresa) You are betrothed to the French Dauphin. The date is Easter next.
You hold a sacred mission. Pay attention.
You are the link of Austria and France, the lines of Bourbon and Habsburg, proud races who have laid centuries bare. This marriage seals our treaty, this marriage brings peace. . .
To turn our force against Prussia.
GIRL: Yes.
WIDOW: (as Maria Theresa) You leave to be a wife.
I must tell you things I have not. A neglected duty: I have not governed my smaller kingdom well.
You are unready for France, unready for a bed. Listen.
They sit together.
You will be a queen and wife.
A wife’s duty is to love her husband.
Children are born of this love. You understand?
You were a girl. Now you are a woman.
The girl becomes a woman. You understand?
There is also the man. This is God’s will.
The man and the woman retire to bed. To cement the alliance of Europe.
These are a woman’s secrets.
GIRL: Is there a portrait of the Dauphin?
WIDOW: (as Maria Theresa) My child, remember: Passionate love soon disappears. Marriage is trust and kindness. Nature has denied much to Monsieur le Dauphin.
Now you must learn history.
GIRL: History is all past. We don’t do that any more.
WIDOW: (as Maria Theresa) You must be educated.
GIRL: Education is tracing over. Trace over what’s drawn out.
“Of which country would I prefer to be Queen? And why?” “France. The country of Henry Four and Louis Fourteen. The one so good, the other so great.”
Who composed this for me to say?
WIDOW: (as Maria Theresa) Your brother Joseph. Thank him.
You must know the Bourbon descent, each office of Versailles, each regiment’s colors.
You must master a protocol of dancing on eggshells. This etiquette a web that traps the little Frenchman, a net of habit.
The monarch’s armor is lacework. It must not ravel.
GIRL: Yes Mama.
WIDOW: (as Maria Theresa) Speak French.
GIRL: Oui Mama.
WIDOW: (as Maria Theresa) More.
GIRL: Je vous. . . Moi. . . Mais oui. . .
Pretends to make doll talk. Giggles.
Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq. . . Seven, eight, nine, ten—
WIDOW snatches doll. GIRL frozen.
WIDOW: (as Maria Theresa) I came to power pregnant.
This patchwork realm fit to be torn in the beaks of crows.
I was ignorant, but I learned.
I stood before the lions, my firstborn in my arms: “Take pity on this feeble woman,” and before they had dabbed their eyes, they were muzzled.
You were my fifteenth born, and two hours later I was propped at my desk, as I bled out my motherhood, signing orders for movement of troops.
We are slaves who mimic queens.
In the pagan kingdoms the Spanish effaced, a virgin was groomed as a god, bedecked, then led to a high bare stone, and the heart ripped out of her chest.
We require a slower waste of the heart. A course of years.
And when your own heart gapes, and your blood is your realm’s rivers, then my sweet, you are queen.
GIRL: Is it time for a play?
WIDOW: (as Maria Theresa) I will show you the end of the play.
Wrings head off doll.
This is a queen who did not study her lines.
WIDOW drops doll. GIRL, shocked, picks it up. WIDOW removes mask, watching GIRL: her own child self grieving. GIRL abruptly picks up another doll, plays. Fade.
PROSECUTOR turns page in his book. WIDOW on bed, huddled. Images of celebration. Music.
PROSECUTOR: Is it a fact that your marriage was an Austrian plot against the sovereignty of France?
WIDOW: I renounced the Austrian succession.
PROSECUTOR: Is it a fact you had letters from Austria directing you to acts injurious to France?
WIDOW: Letters from a mother disappointed in her daughter.
PROSECUTOR: That you kept intact your subversive foreign ties?
GIRL in shadow silhouette is stripped and dressed. Faces watching.
WIDOW: My foreign ties?
They erected a pavilion on an island in the Rhine.
There I was reborn French.
One chamber Austria, the other France, a tapestried hall between.
I was stripped of Austria, every stitch, in my ladies’ view, and redressed in France.
French silks, French petticoats, diamonds and lace.
I crossed the hall.
Silhouette of GIRL alone, lost.
PROSECUTOR: This is in fact not true. This was custom long foregone.
Much that we know of this person is in fact not true.
We know very specific things that are in fact not true.
Music. GIRL appears in court dress, accompanying a full-size, articulated mannekin of the Dauphin.
WIDOW: They call it symmetry.
The gardens of Versailles, the etiquette of privilege, this glistening spiderweb of control—
Repeated, pattern repeated, ingrained, ingrown. Symmetry—
GIRL: White brocade. Diamonds. Look right. Left.
My dress doesn’t fit. Petticoats through the fastening.
Sign the register. I made a blot.
Right. Left. Mirrors. Remember today.
My chambers, the servants pledge allegiance, dozens, hundreds, what do they do? Thirsty. . .
Hall of Mirrors, play cards in the Hall of Mirrors, the old King, myself, my husband, the watchers—
Mama said stretch the neck, be a swan. Right. Left. The watchers.
Watchers watch us play, watch us eat, watch us be kings and queens.
Right. Left. Banquet time.
PROSECUTOR: Six thousand nobles watch twenty people feed.
GIRL: My husband eats a lot.
The old King made a joke I couldn’t understand:
PROSECUTOR: “You mustn’t have too heavy a stomach tonight.”
GIRL: (as Dauphin) “I always sleep better after a lot to eat.”
WIDOW: The Archbishop blessed the bed with holy water.
The watchers withdrew.
GIRL and LOUIS recline on bench, as if in bed. She touches him tenderly. Soft music. LOUIS settles back, snoring. Fade.
Images of celebration. GIRL in shadow tableaux.
VOICES: The whole royal family is infatuated with Marie Antoinette. All smiles.
She seems to walk in beauty.
All grace in motion, she dances, runs, rides her horses, moves across her private stage in utter grace.
GIRL appears, playing with flower.
GIRL: It’s a play.
Is this the play where I’m going to be queen? I need to learn my lines.
Waves to crowds. Shadows of hands.
They say, “You see below you 200,000 souls who love you.”
The wild joy they show us, these poor people, who live their lives crushed by taxation.
Is that my line? Those aren’t my lines.
Learn the characters.
Sits, watches slide images.
The King. Louis Fifteen. He looks younger than he is.
My husband Louis-Auguste. He doesn’t look like his pictures.
My aunts, the King’s daughters.
Madame Adelaide. She calls me “the Austrian.”
Madame Victoire . . . tried to play bagpipes.
Madame Sophie. She never looks at you, she looks sideways, like a rabbit. She hugged me once, when it thundered.
Mercy, the Austrian ambassador. He brings my Mama’s letters.
Who is that lady? What is her rank?
WIDOW: Madame DuBarry. She amuses the King.
GIRL: How?
Laughter from courtiers. Music. GIRL moves through the day.
WIDOW: Dear Mama, these are my days.
I rise at half past nine or 10 o’clock, dress, and say my morning prayers. The Dauphin is gone hunting.
I have breakfast, and go to see my aunts, where I usually find the King.
This lasts till half past ten—
Breaking out of pattern:
GIRL: I want to ride—
PROSECUTOR: You may ride a donkey, at a walk.
WIDOW: At eleven, they dress my hair.
Next the levee, which all may attend, except those without rank or name.
They watch me rouge my cheeks and wash my hands; then the gentlemen withdraw, the ladies remain, and I dress again.
GIRL: Ohh, it’s cold. . .
Mime action in shadow. She tries to touch the shadow of a garment.
WIDOW: The lady of rank must hand the garment to the attendant—
GIRL: Hand me my chemise, I’m freezing—
WIDOW: Except if a lady of higher rank appears—
VOICE: Bonjour—
WIDOW: Bonjour. In which case the garment is handed to the lady of rank who hands it to the attendant who hands it to the lady of higher rank who hands it to the attendant who dresses the Dauphine.
GIRL: Quickly—
WIDOW: Except if a lady of higher rank appears—
VOICE: Bonjour—
WIDOW: Bonjour. In which case—
GIRL: The Dauphine goes naked.
Music. GIRL continues. Images of court life, movements of shadow courtiers.
WIDOW: Now it is time for Mass.
After Mass we have dinner in public, we both eat very quickly, this is over by half past one.
I talk with the Dauphin for a time — I try — and when he has business I retire to my room, where I work.
Needlework, I embroider the King a coat, very slowly, though I hope with God’s grace it will be done in several years.
At three o’clock I go again to my aunts, and see the King.
GIRL: Let’s do a different play.
WIDOW: At four, the Abbe gives me lessons, at five my dancing- or singing-master, till six.
At half past six I go to my aunts, unless I go out.
From seven till nine we play cards at my aunts’.
At nine we have supper, and when the King is away the aunts have supper with us.
But when the King is there, there are other guests.
VOICES: She said, “Who is that woman?” “A friend of the King’s.” “What is her duty?” “To amuse the King.”
Laughter. WIDOW as hairdresser places GIRL’s powdered wig. GIRL plays with dolls. One doll represents DuBarry, another Marie. Voices from different sources.
She will not speak to Madame DuBarry.
The King requests the Dauphine speak to DuBarry.
GIRL: I am resolved, Mama, that while I offer no offense to anyone received at court, neither will I recognize those repugnant to the ideals which have nourished me.
PROSECUTOR: The Dauphine, urged by her aunts, the King’s three maiden daughters, snubs DuBarry.
GIRL: She played cards two evenings, seated beside me, but she couldn’t speak to me unless I spoke first, and I said nothing.
PROSECUTOR: A letter from the Empress.
GIRL: (as Empress) “Does one word about a trifle take so much fuss?”
(as Marie) If you were here you would understand.
(as Empress) “Why such conceit?”
(as Marie) Your ideals. In Vienna, the woman would be whipped.
(as Empress) "I would never have you violate ideals, but I beg you to hear a mother who knows the world.
“You are not your own. You are His Majesty’s first subject. You owe him obedience.
“DuBarry has entry to court by wish of the King.
“All that is asked is that you say an indifferent word.”
PROSECUTOR: The King summons the Austrian ambassador.
GIRL: (as King) “Her aunts lead her astray.”
PROSECUTOR: The ambassador pays a call.
GIRL: (as Mercy) “Your Majesty. The Empress feels that your aunts are kind, but they lead you into mistakes.”
(as Marie) Who else do I have?
My husband spends his days at the hunt, or helping some plasterers plaster, and spends his nights asleep.
I know the French hate Austrians, all Austrians, this Austrian. My mother called it dancing on eggshells. The eggs of vipers.
(as Mercy) “But would you risk discord between your families?”
(as Marie) No.
PROSECUTOR: Frederick of Prussia and Catherine of Russia approach Austria proposing partition of Poland.
Maria Theresa fears war if France disapproves.
GIRL: (as Mercy) “Your Majesty. This attitude is so displeasing to the King. Should the Alliance fail, France will prevent our achieving a share of Poland. For the sake of your country, and of France.”
(as Empress) “And your mother.”
PROSECUTOR: New Year’s 1772, she speaks.
One line spoken by a princess to a whore—
Image of DuBarry. GIRL speaks.
GIRL: There are lots of people at Versailles today.
PROSECUTOR: —Assures the Partition of Poland.
Images of war. Distant cannons, music, laughter. GIRL rises from her dolls, back to her day at court.
WIDOW: Otherwise, we wait for the King, who comes before eleven.
I lie on a sofa and go to sleep until the King arrives. When he is away, we go to bed at eleven.
That is how I spend my day.
Fade. Images. Lights: GIRL with mannekin of LOUIS. Quiet intimacy.
MARIA THERESA : (taped) You must not be in too great a hurry. Increasing your husband’s timidity will only make matters worse.
GIRL: What did you do today?
WIDOW: (as Louis) I would have hunted if it hadn’t rained. I worked at my forge.
GIRL: Your hands are dirty.
WIDOW: (as Louis) Learning to make locks.
GIRL: For our cage.
Forge a hat rack. You never know what to do with your hat.
WIDOW: (as Louis) When I’m King I’ll do away with hats.
They play with one another’s hands. Shadows of ambassadors behind.
VOICE: To Madrid from the Spanish Ambassador: The Dauphin has a condition known as phimosis, in which the foreskin will not retract to allow erection. Thus France and Austria cannot consummate the Alliance.
GIRL: Do you really love me?
WIDOW: (as Louis) Yes. Yes, I— Yes.
GIRL: You’re changed for the better. When we first married, you hardly spoke.
WIDOW: (as Louis) Two years, I’ve had some time.
I wonder if . . . at all . . . if you . . .
GIRL: I do love you sincerely. Yes.
WIDOW: (as Louis) Oh. Well then. We will continue with prayers, and I believe all will go well.
We must abide by God’s will.
She strokes his head, lovingly. He tries to reciprocate. Shadows of ambassadors.
VOICE: Joseph II to Grand Duke of Tuscany: He should be able to father a child. I am told he has firm erections. He puts it in, but he doesn’t move. Then withdraws and says goodnight.
WIDOW: (as Louis) Have you finished your novel? It was not one your confessor approved.
GIRL: I never read books to the end. I might be disappointed.
What if they ended badly?
WIDOW: (as Louis) There are no unhappy endings.
VOICE: Count Mercy to the Empress: His physicians divide on the need for surgery. The Dauphin prefers to trust the will of God.
GIRL and dummy of LOUIS begin to embrace, with feeling, then frustration. Fade.
Image of face in stages of smallpox.
PROSECUTOR: April 1774. The King is ill. Examined by five surgeons, six doctors, three apothecaries. Bled three times, given an enema, then seen by torchlight. Smallpox.
May 7. The Dauphin: “I feel as though planets are falling on me.”
May 9. The King’s face blackens, deforms. The body gives out a great stink.
May 10. A candle extinguished. Then a noise like thunder.
Footsteps in hall, multiplied, echoing.
Through the Hall of Mirrors, a deluge of courtiers rushing.
The King is dead. Vive le roi.
GIRL and LOUIS fall to their knees.
GIRL & WIDOW: Protect us, Lord. We are too young to rule.
PROSECUTOR: This was in fact not said.
Light change. WIDOW on bed, holding LOUIS in grieving embrace. Tight focus on GIRL.
GIRL: Shadows. What casts the shadows?
Some overwhelming colossus, it’s never seen.
Only the shadows, dancing, flirting, masqueraders.
I dreamed that I was a shadow, cast by a girl I’d never met.
A girl never hearing my calling out hello.
I traced around the curve of my face to see if I knew who it was, it wasn’t me, I was only a shadow of someone real.
Or I was the sketch of a painter who painted his dreams.
So my dream wasn’t mine, but only the dream of a shadow inside of a dream.
And I thought: What about daylight?
Noon burns out the shadows.
Noon, I face rough planking, stains in the wood, the yoke on my head, quivering, shorn.
Stare into my shadow, trapped like a bird.
Dreams. No, I’d rather make my days themselves a beautiful dream.
Of a strange girl painted with laughter, a shimmering queen dancing across the sky.
I’ve always loved shadows of feathers.
GIRL dons a jewelled feather mask.
PROSECUTOR: Great hopes. An explosion of joy. An honest young King, a graceful, virtuous Queen.
GIRL: We’ll dance. A dance of diamonds.
Diamonds. My first were earrings. Then a diamond bracelet, earrings, chandelier, a diamond spray, more bracelets, necklaces, diamonds.
Cheers. Images of celebration. Shadow figures waving, dancing.
PROSECUTOR: The public was seized with joy. Exclamations: How pretty! How charming!
Wherever she went she smiled and when she walked in the Tuileries, people had climbed the trees, more than 50,000 souls.
GIRL breaks from LOUIS, comes forward to bars, rapturous. Images, dreamlike .
GIRL: Last Tuesday. I will remember as long as I live.
The enthusiasm of the poor people, who in spite of taxes that oppress them, were beside themselves with joy.
How happy we are to win their love with a smile.
There is nothing more precious.
I will never forget it.
Music. She becomes aware of her hands on the bars. Slow terror. Shadow of MERCY.
PROSECUTOR: (as Mercy) Your Majesty.
WIDOW: The Austrian ambassador Mercy—
GIRL: Come with scoldings from my mother.
PROSECUTOR: (as Mercy) The Empress sends love to her youngest daughter.
GIRL: (picking up letter) Only old words, cold words here. We’ll set them to music.
“I hear you buy diamond rings for a quarter million francs—”
How on earth have my rings reached Vienna so soon?
“A queen is demeaned by bedecking herself, at a time like this.”
A time like this? We can afford it, we’re going to pay for this silly American war, let the Americans crown a different king.
No, we must mimic queens.
Versailles is a burial vault: This tomb of clockwork corpses round and round— Old duchesses in crepe like crumpled crows.
But then our procession to Fontainebleau, what joy, the crowds by the road, they have no bread, but they cheer us.
All they ask is hope. We bring them a glittering hope.
So easy to earn their love, a smile, some gesture that says we understand, and we bring them hope.
You told me, Mercy, what the Englishman wrote?
Music. MERCY becomes lyrical.
PROSECUTOR: (as Mercy) “I saw the Queen of France, and never lighted on this orb a more delightful vision. I saw her above the horizon, cheering the elevated sphere — glittering like the morning star, full of life, and splendor, and joy.”
GIRL: (vehemently) This is a prison! Should I not have diamonds in prison?
PROSECUTOR: (as Mercy) Shall I make this response to the Empress?
GIRL: No. It’s only a masquerade, Mercy. Some tedious, long play.
Costumes that pinch. Music out of tune.
Every line must rhyme, and if it doesn’t, the murmurs begin.
I think I’ll play Mary Stuart, put my head on the chopping block, everyone will cry, and then I can have my diamonds.
No. It’s not a prison, it’s iron grillwork.
Ornamental gates, but they never open.
PROSECUTOR: (as Mercy) You have letters for the Empress?
GIRL: Yes. Imagine. Louis has given me the Petit Trianon. “You like flowers, I’ll give you a whole bouquet.”
I’m designing a garden. Can you get us a billy goat? I want a little Austrian village with a Swiss billy goat. Clean and white and unsmelly.
WIDOW: (as Maria Theresa) It will be upon you the blame will fall.
I hope I do not live to see the day.
GIRL frozen, then deliberately covers face with feather mask. Fade.
WIDOW standing, PROSECUTOR turns page. Rapid interrogation.
PROSECUTOR: Where did you get money to furnish the Little Trianon, where you gave parties in which you were always the goddess?
WIDOW: The money came from a fund set apart.
PROSECUTOR: The Little Trianon cost enormous sums.
WIDOW: More than I should have wished. Expenditure grew by degrees.
PROSECUTOR: Had you thought of the debts of France?
WIDOW: How could I have known? When I asked for fifty thousand they brought me a hundred thousand.
PROSECUTOR: How did you spend the immense sums you asked?
WIDOW: I never asked immense sums. I paid the people in my service.
PROSECUTOR: Why were the Polignac family gorged with gold?
WIDOW: They had places at court.
PROSECUTOR: Was it not you who filled military posts?
PROSECUTOR: Did you not have a list of greedy friends?
PROSECUTOR: Did you not compel the Minister of Finance to send you money?
WIDOW: Never.
PROSECUTOR: And make the King, your husband, do whatever you wished.
WIDOW: There is a difference between advising and having it carried out.
PROSECUTOR: Such as what?
WIDOW: I was sexless for seven years.
Music. GIRL plays with dolls. Behind, faces, caricatured shadows. WIDOW stands watching her.
VOICES: Her Majesty has utterly forgotten her dignity—
Horse racing, gambling, the turning of night into day—
GIRL: My dolls. It’s only dolls.
A First Minister, the aunts want Maurepas— All right, if it makes them happy, they can play with him.
Comte de Vergennes, no, my mother says no. But we must have him. I won’t. All right. The Petit Trianon, and you can have the Comte.
PROSECUTOR: You dismissed old ministers and appointed new incompetents.
GIRL: Dolls. All my friends, they have no brains but they’re pretty.
The Duc de Lauzun, he tries to flirt.
Prince de Ligne, Baron de Besenval, he tells funny stories—
(mumbling as doll) No. Sir, you shame yourself. I am your queen.
Slaps it, then kisses it, tosses it away.
Count Esterhazy: Hungarians are dark and insane.
Give Esterhazy a regiment to command, a post for Besenval, a marshalship for the Duc de Guines.
He knows nothing of war? Then surely we’ll have peace.
PROSECUTOR: 1775. Lexington and Concord. Peasants’ revolt in Bohemia. Watt’s steam engine, and a mode of classifying insects.
GIRL: Comtesse de Polignac.
Now don’t be jealous, all my other sweets. She’s my friend.
GIRL: Don’t frown, Lamballe. I’ll make you Mistress of my Household.
Help me spend money. Take baskets and go to help the poor.
Some people are heartless. Did you hear old Princess Adelaide? “If they have no bread, they should learn to eat piecrust.” Piecrust makes her sick.
Diamonds for all my dolls.
Dismiss Monsieur Turgot. His reforms are seditious. He wants to make us beggars.
VOICES: The King allows her one gambling session a week.
It lasted thirty-six hours.
GIRL: My doll house, we’ll decorate, light, elegant, long-legged tables, flowered velvets, draperies, tassels, books bound in blue leather, they’re pretty enough to read.
Dress my dolls. Which one is me? Désir masqué, soupirs étouffes, plaisirs indiscrets — naming dresses, wonderful names.
Let’s have a play with a happy ending: they die, then they all get up and dance.
To breathe the air of freedom!
VOICES: She was at the racecourse. With her brother-in-law. Her lover.
No, she fancies women.
GIRL: Dear Polignac, you have debts, why should we rule if we can’t help friends in need? M. de Polignac, we’ll pay his debts, 400,000 livres, make him a Duke and Master of the Horse.
And your brother-in-law. And sister. And father.
Friendship is sacred.
WIDOW begins playing gentle, idyllic love scene with the feathered female mask.
VOICES: Monsieur de Polignac was made a duke—
All his debts were paid.
Which is her lover? He or the duchess?
She is faithful to the King.
He never completes the act.
GIRL: It’s only dolls.
WIDOW: (holding a feather mask) Dark brown hair, white teeth, her smile angelic.
VOICES: Her lips, her kisses followed her greedy glances over my quivering body. Here were undreamed-of delights.
WIDOW kisses the female mask.
PROSECUTOR: This in fact did not happen.
Or it did in fact happen.
Or it is in dispute.
GIRL: Where are my friends?
VOICES: (echoing) Here. Here. Here. . .
GIRL: I want friends. Happy people. People who laugh.
PROSECUTOR: Queens pay for friends.
GIRL does playful dance with dolls. Music changes. Shadow of hand grows into beggar. Image of enraged face. Blackout.
Lights: WIDOW in mask of JOSEPH II.
GIRL: Joseph. Are you going to scold me?
WIDOW: (as Joseph) As Co-regent of Austria? Or as eldest brother?
GIRL: Both. Neither.
When you announced your visit, I was obsessed. For weeks nothing but Austria, the gardens, music, the games.
Then as you approached, I recalled your implacable cold knife logic that cut to the bone.
We couldn’t be silly with you. We survived you only by mimicking those fishy eyes.
WIDOW: (as Joseph) My curse since childhood. Blind to all but truth.
GIRL: Is truth so grouchy gloomy?
WIDOW: (as Joseph) I walk the streets, disguised. See bellies of starving children.
Maggots in soldiers’ wounds, the sores in women’s mouths.
As a child I prepared to rule. I studied books.
As prince I studied men: lessons too comic for laughter.
I will bring my empire prosperity; I doubt I shall bring it joy.
The well is long dry.
GIRL: So we are sister and brother at war? Will some governess shout to stop fighting?
WIDOW: (as Joseph) No. I thirst for your silliness, music long absent from life.
I drink it, pure dew.
GIRL: How do you like my aunts?
WIDOW: (as Joseph) We spent a long evening.
They sat in a black cloaked row, with knitting bags and violent smiles, as if they wished to make water.
GIRL: My husband?
WIDOW: (as Joseph) Lumpish and slow.
But he has an adequate mind. He is honest. He has the heart I lack.
GIRL: And the Queen?
WIDOW: (as Joseph) A pretty featherhead. She prefers the title Queen of Fashion to Queen of France.
She’s advanced the art of painting. More color lavished on one cheek than Rubens on his canvas.
GIRL: This is France.
WIDOW: (as Joseph) You scandalize even the French with your immodesty.
GIRL: Immodesty? I bathe in a flannel gown, buttoned up to the neck.
WIDOW: (as Joseph) With diamonds, no doubt.
GIRL: I look at my diamonds when I choose. I am not required to hold court for my diamonds.
WIDOW: (as Joseph) You are never at court. The nobility murmur. And the people.
GIRL: Can the people’s love depend on the way we treat strutting geese?
WIDOW: (as Joseph) You spend hours with your prancing pigeon, Madame de Polignac.
GIRL: When I am with her, I am no longer Queen, I am myself.
WIDOW: (as Joseph) Pardon. I mistook you for the Queen.
GIRL: I am Queen.
WIDOW: (as Joseph) Every third Tuesday.
You are a pleasant young woman who all day thinks of nothing but diamonds, dresses—
Fifteen minutes a month riffling pages of a book, and then you presume to choose statesmen as if playing blindman’s buff.
You never ponder the consequence of what you do.
GIRL: I do nothing of my own. I trace over letters of words.
WIDOW: (as Joseph) The words are being spelled out.
There is a new industry in France: obscene verses against the Queen. Who pays? Your brothers-in-law and your cousins, to undermine the King.
And the journals, which praised the Queen’s charity and grace, now carry news of horse races, gambling, the turning of night into day.
Masked balls at the Opera, libertines, prostitutes! How indecent!
GIRL: I do nothing indecent.
WIDOW: (as Joseph) They publish lists of your lovers.
They speak of a masked-ball tete-a-tete with a handsome young Swedish count—
Light change. Shadow of FERSEN. WIDOW unmasks slowly, crying.
WIDOW: Axel. . . Love you. . .
A man who can love as a man. . .
First words of his voice. . .
Re-masks, stands as JOSEPH.
GIRL: I have no lovers.
I resemble my mother too little in some things, too much in others.
I am glutted with virtue.
WIDOW: (as Joseph) You are married seven years.
GIRL: Yes.
WIDOW: (as Joseph) You have not borne an heir to secure the Austrian treaty.
GIRL: I can’t make the baby myself.
WIDOW: (as Joseph) I see more of France in a month than you in seven years.
There will be upheaval, a turning, one may say a revolution.
GIRL: Yes!
They have their revolution in America, we’ll have ours here.
What fun. We’ll fight for the simple life.
We’ll topple the towers of etiquette— Pick up a thousand courtiers by the scruff of the neck and toss them out the door—
I’m joking, Joseph.
Fade. Shadows in anxious motion. Cacophony. Lights. GIRL sits beside LOUIS.
It was good Joseph came. Though I barely survived.
Hold me.
WIDOW: (as Louis) Your brother is adamant. He says I must have surgery.
GIRL: France must make its own incisions. Austria cannot.
WIDOW: (as Louis) What do you wish?
GIRL: Do as you see fit.
The people demand a Dauphin. They see me sterile, curse me. Do as you see fit.
Royalty is breeding stock. No other use. It breeds the people’s future.
WIDOW: (as Louis) It isn’t the pain—
WIDOW: (as Louis) I would gladly bear the pain.
But no one tells me for certain: is it God’s will? Can we trim His will at the turn of a knife?
Perhaps they stay better unborn.
For the festivals once, my grandfather lit 90,000 lamps, 600,000 luminous vases, 4,000 Roman candles, 6,820 pots of fire — I wrote it down — 2 billion francs to light our world.
They arrive, the travelers, stand at the gates of heaven.
But my youngest memory was the smell: the passages, courtyards, wings and corridors stinking of urine and waste.
Waiting an hour for a glass of water, as they sort through servants, courtiers, princes to find who was empowered to hand the Dauphin his glass of tepid water.
Clogged chimneys, soot-stained walls, the cold stone heaven of a shivering baby god.
I feel like the man who fell out of the belfry.
I only want to be loved.
GIRL: By whom?
WIDOW: (as Louis) Whoever.
GIRL: Our first breakfast together, I watched every bite.
One chicken, chops, ham and six eggs, a bottle of champagne.
And that barking high little squeak of a laugh.
WIDOW: (as Louis) I’d be a better stonemason, locksmith maybe.
I juggle the tumblers of France, I patch its cracks, I go to bed early, wake and it looks the same, but outside the mortar crumbles.
If I were a locksmith, now, I could lock your dressmaker out of the treasury.
GIRL: Have I ever asked you to pay my debts?
WIDOW: (as Louis) Yes you have.
GIRL: I wasn’t serious.
WIDOW: (as Louis) Your creditors were.
GIRL: Prison is boring. I’m afraid of being bored.
There must be money. We’d be told if there weren’t.
WIDOW: (as Louis) We are being told.
GIRL: They asked that after candles have burnt, that we light them again.
WIDOW: (as Louis) If they still burn.
GIRL: But then they’re old.
WIDOW: (as Louis) Candles are costly.
GIRL: “Candles are costly!”
They say to respect the ways of Versailles, and then they say No.
If I have used candles removed, then I am bankrupting France.
If I let the candles remain, the courtiers who steal them to sell become my foes, and they call me the Austrian bitch.
So we’ll give them candles and dance by our diamonds’ light.
WIDOW: (as Louis) They no longer cheer you at the opera.
GIRL: I’m tired of the opera.
WIDOW: (as Louis) How do you find the crowds along the road?
GIRL: Cold.
WIDOW: (as Louis) You don’t wear enough plumes.
I was joking.
GIRL: My mother wrote, “When will you at last become what you really are?”
Perhaps I have.
WIDOW: (as Louis) I will have the surgery, and all will be well.
Perhaps then you will be content.
GIRL: Perhaps.
LOUIS disappears. Delicate music. She does a remembered gesture of her mother’s marital lecture. Looks up.
My dearest mother: You will rejoice with me that I am, after seven years, truly Queen of France.
My marriage was consummated a week ago. I can now hope for heirs to the throne.
And the experiment has been repeated.
GIRL frozen. Sounds of labor. Shadows in rapid motion. Image of mask face, rolling in pain. Gradually, behind its eyes, a newborn infant emerges. LOUIS drones.
LOUIS: (taped) The Queen had a very good night. A few small pains when she woke but she took a bath.
VOICES: Back. Give her air. Warm water, she must be bled at the foot.
The Queen is about to give birth.
LOUIS: (taped) The pains continued slight. I gave orders to cancel the hunt.
PROSECUTOR: Her pregnancy so increased her credit that France supported the Emperor against the Prussians, and Bavaria fell to the Austrians.
VOICES: Pull open the window. Dry incision.
Clear the room! Courtiers crowd too close! Break out the windows!
LOUIS: (taped) Between noon and half past the pains increased—
PROSECUTOR: She moved the King to the Austrian cause, at the risk of war.
This is fact. This is not motherhood. This is political fact.
LOUIS: (taped) She lay down on her bed and at exactly a quarter past one by my watch she was successfully delivered.
Madame, Monsieur le Dauphin begs to be received.
Music. WIDOW presents GIRL with doll.
GIRL: Fireworks, torches. The marriage of a hundred poor girls for whom I give dowries. We pardon one hundred debtors.
The procession through Paris—
Why don’t they cheer more? Those people are silent.
No, it’s a happy time. All the tradesmen bring gifts:
Butchers with oxen, pastrymakers with pastries in Cupid shapes, locksmiths a lock, the gravediggers a tiny coffin.
Now my happiness is full. The child is my fulfillment.
The silly days are done. I have no need for diamonds.
I’ll have a hamlet, an Austrian village, near the Petit Trianon. We’ll wear simple clothes, walk by the lake. Watch the animals, real animals, and we’ll talk in quiet tones.
To the palace twice a week to be Queen, and then return to the quiet life.
The people will love me again, and we’ll have peace.
GIRL cradles baby.
VOICE: Your Majesty. Your mother the Empress has contracted a condition of the lungs.
The Empress is dead.
WIDOW: (as Maria Theresa) May God bless, bless, protect my living children.
Joseph, Emperor of Austria. . .
Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany. . .
Maria-Cristina, Duchess of Saxe-Teschen. . .
Amelia, Duchess of Parma. . .
Maria-Carolina, Queen of Naples. . .
She stops, then passionately:
Marie Antoinette, Queen of France!
Subsides, sobbing. GIRL frozen, face in tight spotlight.
Driving, insistent music. Images of poverty. Shadow of beggar crossing the screen. Blackout.
Act Two
PROSECUTOR enters, sits at controls. Music. Lights: WIDOW sits, holding doll.
WIDOW: I remember an old lady who could not be told of deaths.
“No, talk of births.”
WIDOW: From 1780 I live a new life. I take no part in politics—
PROSECUTOR: The accused required the King to support Austrian hegemony in the Netherlands—
WIDOW: I support the aims of France—
PROSECUTOR: —Brought France near ruin by sending sums to her brother to fight the Turks—
WIDOW: I moderate my expenses—
PROSECUTOR: —All-night masked balls, ball dresses, fancy dresses, winter, summer, a hundred seventy dresses a year, scrapped at the end of each year—
WIDOW: I seek simplicity—
PROSECUTOR: At a price.
WIDOW: My garden. Get rid of the scalloped flowerbeds, sculpted hedges, all that.
Nature plants nothing in a line.
There’s a grotto, waterfall, hillock, a lake fed by a river that wanders the garden, alongside a Temple of Love.
A forest transplanted. It’s nature. Reality.
We create reality.
PROSECUTOR: Your lovers: De Guile—
WIDOW: Nonsense.
PROSECUTOR: Vaudreiul—
WIDOW: Absurd.
PROSECUTOR: The orgies at Trianon—
WIDOW: Never.
PROSECUTOR: Axel von Fersen.
Momentary shadow, then fade.
WIDOW: In America. Fighting their war.
PROSECUTOR: You engaged in systematic extravagance to bankrupt France.
WIDOW: I’m tired of diamonds.
PROSECUTOR: Not those from the woman La Motte?
WIDOW: I never knew her.
PROSECUTOR: Was she not your victim in the plot of the diamond necklace?
WIDOW: She cannot have been, since I never knew her.
PROSECUTOR: You persist in your lies?
WIDOW: I speak no lies. I speak truth and will persist in speaking. . .
My lines, when I learn them.
Bright music. She breaks from tableau, flighty, eager, rehearsing, holding playbook.
It’s the loveliest part, the servant Suzanne in Figaro, the most provoking little thing. The King disapproves, but he laughs.
He hates M. de Beaumarchais: “That man mocks everything that must be respected in life.” But he laughs.
He forbids public showings, but he laughs. It’s only a play.
GIRL appears in mask as BOHMER.
PROSECUTOR: The jeweler Bohmer requests an audience.
WIDOW: Tiresome man. I’m tired of diamonds.
When I refused his necklace, he promised suicide. I begged to be spared the spectacle.
(rehearsing) “Your plan is delightful, my lady. It brings all together, ends all, embraces all.”
GIRL: (as Bohmer) Your Highness, my creditors force me to come.
WIDOW: What have his creditors to do with me?
GIRL: (as Bohmer) They ask payment: an installment on the necklace.
WIDOW: I refused his necklace. I never commissioned him.
Tell him I hate the taste of diamonds. I will buy no diamonds.
I will buy warships. I will buy goats.
(rehearsing) “To marry? To marry whom? My Figaro?”
GIRL: (as Bohmer) Your Majesty received the necklace!
PROSECUTOR: Bohmer asserts he gave it to a messenger from the Queen.
WIDOW: The man exists to torture me.
PROSECUTOR: He claims the Queen had it purchased by Cardinal de Rohan.
WIDOW: The Queen has not spoken to the Cardinal in eight years. There is no man less in favor at court.
(rehearsing) “What lies! Slanderer! Go away!”
PROSECUTOR: He asserts that the Queen receives the Cardinal in private.
WIDOW: (rehearsing) “You play fast and loose with a woman’s honor!”
GIRL: (as Bohmer) I was informed by Comtesse de la Motte-Valois that a great nobleman would buy the necklace for the Queen.
WIDOW: There is no such Comtesse.
GIRL: (as Bohmer) She is Your Majesty’s closest friend.
WIDOW: This is a madhouse.
GIRL: (as Bohmer) Four installments over two years. Sixteen hundred thousand livres, delivered the first of February, first payment due August first. Each article approved, and your signature “Marie Antoinette de France.”
WIDOW: “De France.” A queen does not sign herself “de France.”
How could you think I could do this without telling the King?
GIRL: (as Bohmer) Your Majesty—
WIDOW: Answer!
GIRL: (as Bohmer) Your Majesty. . . The earrings in ‘76, the bracelets. . .
You asked then that the King not be bothered.
WIDOW: Summon the Cardinal Rohan.
(rehearsing) “You are a scoundrel spreading gossip and harming a wretched child. No deception, no victim.”
I left something out.
GIRL: (as Bohmer) Your Majesty—
WIDOW: The Cardinal is prodigal. He has used my name like a vile and clumsy forger. I want the Cardinal arrested.
(rehearsing) “Men are creatures full of guilt.”
I have serious work to do. I must learn my lines.
Shadow of LOUIS appears beside shadow of ROHAN, both in abrupt, melodramatic tableaux. WIDOW continues rehearsing.
PROSECUTOR: (as Louis) Did you buy diamonds from Bohmer?
VOICE: Yes, Sire.
PROSECUTOR: (as Louis) Who gave you this commission?
VOICE: Comtesse de la Motte-Valois gave me a letter from the Queen.
WIDOW: How could you believe this?
VOICE: My desire to please Your Majesty blinded me.
The document was in your hand.
WIDOW: A forgery.
PROSECUTOR: (as Louis) Where is the necklace?
VOICE: In the hands of the woman.
PROSECUTOR: (as Louis) Where is the woman?
VOICE: Gone.
WIDOW: Arrest him.
PROSECUTOR: (as Louis) Arrest Monsieur le Cardinal.
Gasp. Gigantic fingers appear, grasp the arms of shadow, pull. Shadow fades.
WIDOW: I am delighted not to hear this wretched business any more.
“You are an innocent, to walk into a trap laid for others.”
WIDOW studies lines. GIRL enters with LOUIS mannekin. They sit together.
GIRL: (as Louis) My dear, the Cardinal is guilty only of being stupid.
He had an affair with this woman who styles herself a countess. She made him believe anything.
She hired a prostitute for him, disguised as the Queen.
He should be stripped of honor and exiled. Nothing more.
WIDOW: He will be brought to trial before Parlement. I want public disgrace.
GIRL: (as Louis) Parlement is full of your enemies.
WIDOW: I am not on trial.
GIRL: (as Louis) They will try whom they will.
WIDOW: I will have it.
This Cardinal, he was in Vienna when I was a girl. The ladies flocked like quivering sheep.
And then my first-born son, by protocol those odorous hands performed his baptism.
France is unjust. I will make it just.
GIRL: (as Louis) For your own sake—
WIDOW: This lumpish, sweating child of a King, allowing his wife to be mimicked by prostitutes!
GIRL: (as Louis) Very well.
LOUIS weeps. WIDOW embraces him tenderly.
WIDOW: We are still too young to rule.
The people no longer cheer. They stand silent.
We process through a city where speech is the barking of dogs.
And I the frayed end of a dream from which they begin to wake.
Imagine? This year I spent 300,000 livres on dresses.
I was dressing simply. Milkmaid dresses.
Monsieur de Calonne assures me there is money. When I ask for fifty thousand they give me a hundred thousand.
I have a new name, you know? Madame Deficit.
No, this will change. Expose those who conspire against me, this Cardinal—
Oh yes, the Polignacs, their sickening greed, I see, but I can’t turn them away, after so many years—
I’ll redouble good deeds— Before we play cards, we’ll pledge collections for the poor. I won’t forget. I’ll write it down.
I’ll read books all the way to the end.
The Alliance, I know, if it came apart, France against Austria, birth to centuries of death—
The people will see me, and they will love me again.
For the truth.
GIRL: (as Louis) Yes.
PROSECUTOR rises. Voices, overlapped. Shadows of faces, changing.
PROSECUTOR: It is asserted that—
VOICES: The Queen has the necklace—
The Queen betrayed the Cardinal—
The Queen and Cardinal are lovers—
PROSECUTOR: But this is false. It is asserted that—
VOICES: The Queen observed the tryst in the garden—
The Queen lied to the King—
The Queen met the sorcerer Cagliostro in a wine carafe—
PROSECUTOR: But this is false. It is asserted that—
VOICES: The Queen shielded the Countess de la Motte—
The Queen betrayed her friend the Countess de la Motte—
The Queen seduced the lovely Countess de la Motte—
PROSECUTOR: But this is false. It is asserted that—
WIDOW: There is a shipment of books from England, the life of the so-called Countess, now escaped—
PROSECUTOR: The public knows the Cardinal is falsely accused—
WIDOW: Books such as your brothers read. Featuring the Queen—
Shadows writhe: caricatured pornography.
VOICE: Mistress of perversion, ingenious at corruption, she directed her eyes to dwell devouringly on me, then her lips, her kisses following greedy glances over my quivering body. I blush at undreamed-of delights—
WIDOW: The books bought by a single buyer, who burned them, lest they be read—
PROSECUTOR: The innocent Countess branded and jailed—
WIDOW: Now they say the King has paid to suppress the truth.
PROSECUTOR: The verdict upon the Cardinal is—
Sudden flash: CARDINAL posed in triumphant silhouette.
VOICE: Acquitted.
PROSECUTOR: And the Queen—
Dead silence. She stands helpless. Looks at book, tries to study lines.
WIDOW: “Blessed they of noble birth,
Blessed they who own the earth. . ."
Please help me.
GIRL: (as Louis) Now you must learn your lines. I look forward to the play.
I disapprove the play, but the players are fine.
Music. WIDOW alone. GIRL sits as a schoolgirl reading.
PROSECUTOR: 1785, steam engine in British cotton mill. 86, discovery of uranium.
1787, American Constitution. The dollar is born.
GIRL: (reading from book) "The trial at an end, the happy years were gone, the carefree, joyous years.
“Farewell forever those tranquil days at the Trianon, the glittering splendor, sparkling wit. Farewell to reverence for monarchy.
“The forms and ceremonies now an empty shell, no longer from the heart and soul of France.”
Slow fade. The shadow of FERSEN appears on the screen, responding as she speaks. PROSECUTOR speaks his lines. WIDOW in profile as if facing figure.
WIDOW: Count Fersen.
The King grants my wish. You will command our Royal Swedish Regiment. Your King approves, and Louis will pay your commission.
You will live half the year at Versailles.
Pause. FERSEN bows.
This rewards your service in America. To cut off the nose of George the Third, as Louis said.
What do they call it? “Liberty.”
Imagine, to die for a word. A territory, disputed city, a crown I understand, but a word?
Words like white butterflies. They never light. Each war with its holiday, what a happy land, never done feasting the dead.
You were not too grieved that Miss Leijel married before you returned?
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) I knew she would.
WIDOW: Nor Madmoiselle Necker, the banker’s sterling dividend?
Your colonies too have declared their independence.
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) I cannot belong to the one to whom I should wish to belong, and so I belong to none.
WIDOW: You enjoy life at court?
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) A carnival. Suppers, grand balls, spectacle—
Your English garden at night, lanterns, the music, the guests all in white, like priceless dancing jewels.
We go sleepless to hear this concert whose violins play endless laughter.
WIDOW: Laughter? I miss it as if I’d known it.
You heard of the necklace affair? My entry in Paris, in May, after my second son’s birth?
Silence. Straggling bands of men, women on steps, staring as if someone had shouted a name they’d never heard.
What have I done to them? What?
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) If they could see your eyes. . .
WIDOW: They send me petitions. “My children are starving. We have no bread.”
How can I understand this? One can barely read it.
I send baskets to the poor. I live simply.
They say the King’s sister eats 100 million francs of meat a year. But I see her only pick at her food.
No more depressing babble. We’ll talk of you.
One of my ladies described you— I shouldn’t tell you—
“A burning soul in a shell of ice.”
What do you say to that?
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) That would describe a Swede.
WIDOW: You are a foreigner too.
I can’t remember the color of your eyes.
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) Did you never look?
WIDOW: Often. Different colors at different hours of the day.
Once in the garden, in the afternoon—
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) Look now.
WIDOW: Closer.
Our first meeting, the Opera ball, we were masked, you fingered my feather mask, your words were so insistent, your words to the white of my neck under the plumage.
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) I was young.
WIDOW: And then you discovered the truth, who I was, the Dauphine. Little boy caught at some innocent shame.
You’re too much a monarchist to be a lover.
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) My departure for America, I noticed tears in your eyes.
I had longed for a war, that I might be drawn away. Against my will.
WIDOW: Your American war aged you ten years. Was it all from longing?
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) One ages in a war.
WIDOW: Touch me.
They stand motionless.
We were together. Were we not? Once, twice? Have we not been lovers in flesh?
I feel the touch on me.
Have we loved in the flesh? By report I’ve barely had time, so many other men.
So many rumors, impregnated with rumors, bearing each rumor a litter of little rumors.
Yet there were no others, imagine that?
Except Louis, of course, what one does in the line of duty, twice a month our treaty ratification.
So I thought I’d remembered once, twice, beneath our plumage, it must have been you.
Or your shadow. Someone who wrote letters addressed to ‘Josephine.’ And I had some comical name for you.
It must have happened, they must have touched, run together like colors in rain.
I touched the most loved and loving of men.
I kissed him in the mouth.
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) It cannot be.
Love above marriage, of course, but not above monarchy.
We serve the order that God decrees. We are not ourselves.
WIDOW: Well. Who then are we?
The man I married as proxy shadow, he became lumpish fact. I know his exact weight after dinner.
If his council deems we must have another child to secure the throne, we schedule the act.
And a man I knew as man, my one sudden shock, dims to shadow. Always there, but never to touch.
Only in passing to feel him sometimes brush.
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) We must be discreet. To defile the royal succession—
WIDOW: Touch me.
They reach to touch. Unable.
For seven years I was a fumbled wife.
Our shambling attempts to couple, ambassadors’ weekly reports on our groping.
And then time and the surgeon blessed our bed.
This consummation, I thought, was the cure.
But again the fumbling encounters, myself and the people of France: Madame Deficit, the Austrian bitch, they never lack pet names.
Then our love I thought was the cure.
To hold one hand, even at secret times, and pirouette in a dark masquerade.
Now clouds gather, to cover us.
We haggle how the States General is to meet, how chartered, will they vote as three or as one?
Clouds gather as they mass in the aisle, as they start debate. Clouds gather as the King dithers, declares himself a fool. Clouds gather lightning.
Axel, you’ll see me only by lightning, in sudden flight.
Touch me. One touch scatters the shadows.
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) I will be near.
WIDOW: Be nearer. Close within me.
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) We must be circumspect. There is always danger.
WIDOW: Danger?
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) Fertility.
WIDOW: Same danger with other women. You are not always circumspect.
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) But the royal succession. . . The monarchy, all civilized—
We must kiss passionately and—
WIDOW: Kiss passionately and—
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) Kiss again, and—
WIDOW: Then—
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) Kiss again.
She reaches again, passionately, embraces nothing.
PROSECUTOR: There is categorical proof of their adultery, which is, however, contradicted by other proof.
Slowly, WIDOW stands erect.
WIDOW: I should have been my mother: stop playing with dolls and master the steps they teach.
Love has a force, they say, that is fiercer when starved.
Then let the storm gather its indrawn breath.
I am no longer the child.
GIRL comes to her, face to face.
You are gone. You were never born.
“When will you at last become what you truly are?”
I am the woman now. A Queen of France.
GIRL goes.
Axel Fersen. You will do me errands.
And on nights perhaps when one must pass the hours, you will come in secret, we shall lie on the bed, moan and kiss, embrace and yearn.
PROSECUTOR: (as Fersen) Yes.
WIDOW: We are ready then. For the storm.
Music pulse.
PROSECUTOR: Pay attention. You are not playing your harp. You must learn history.
GIRL appears, as if studying lessons.
GIRL: Then the States-General was called, they all fought, and then they all got together, and did the King call in troops?—
GIRL: The Paris mob stormed the Bastille, and they cut off heads—
GIRL: The King goes into Paris— No, was that before?
The mob of women march to Versailles and we’re all going to be murdered— No, was that before?
GIRL: I can’t remember!
PROSECUTOR: Why is privilege automatic for some and poverty for others?
GIRL: I can’t remember!
WIDOW storms in, sorting papers, signing them with aimless energy.
WIDOW: Is an absolute prince, hereditary sovereign of the ancient monarchy of France, become the toy of a mob?— Who once in power will dethrone his imbecile complaisance?
Do they wish to imitate the England of 1648, the sanguinary hour of Charles the First?
France a commonwealth! Before I allow the King such a step—
They shall bury me.
PROSECUTOR: Witnesses testify to orgies at Versailles from 1779 to 1789, the appalling dilapidation of French finance.
WIDOW: No knowledge. Appoint M. Calonne.
PROSECUTOR: In your apartment the King’s veto speech was prepared?
WIDOW: Decided in Council. Appoint M. de Brienne.
PROSECUTOR: Who decided to ring the delegates with bayonets?
WIDOW: Evidently no one. Since it was never done.
M. Necker instead. No, Foullon.
PROSECUTOR: Troops in the Champ de Mars?
WIDOW: To establish tranquillity.
PROSECUTOR: Everyone was tranquil. There was but one cry: liberty.
Music: harpsichord dissonance. WIDOW with LOUIS, threading through dream.
WIDOW: More candles. These candles are old.
When a candle burns out, a child is born blind.
There’s a song.
PROSECUTOR: The Estates assemble.
WIDOW: Right. Left. They watch tight-lipped.
Cold here. Don’t complain. Our son is ill.
Someone cheers the Queen. Curtsey. Applause.
Our son is dying.
PROSECUTOR: The King appears distracted.
WIDOW: (as Louis) “My son is dying. Are there no fathers among you?”
His spine protrudes. White face. You see one leg shorter.
My son is dead. No one seems to notice.
GIRL: (reading) “Because protocol forbade royalty to stay by the corpse of their child or attend the funeral. . .”
WIDOW: Be thankful we have another son. May God protect him.
GIRL hands WIDOW another Dauphin doll.
All through hallways. They lead to other hallways.
Marble tile. Stenciled walls. Dadoes. Terrazzo. Inlaid veneer.
Open doors. Close the doors. Thunder—
PROSECUTOR: The Bastille is taken by storm, the governor murdered, his head at the end of a pike paraded through the streets.
WIDOW: (as Louis) “Are you bringing me news of a revolt?”
PROSECUTOR: No Sire, a Revolution.
WIDOW: Hallways.
Where are the servants? Trimmed like candles.
Right. Left. Myself in the mirror.
Be a swan in the thunder—
Cold here. Don’t complain. We have our friends.
GIRL: (embracing a doll) Goodbye, dear Polignac. You must go.
You don’t want to get broken.
WIDOW reaches for doll, GIRL drops it.
VOICES: We have a thousand, two hundred thousand fists. Muskets, cannon.
Fetch the King and the bitch from Versailles. Let them live here, in their kingdom.
Cut her throat. Rip up her belly. Cut off her head. String out her guts. Butcher the whore.
GIRL: (reciting) The women of Paris, six thousand, and men there too.
They marched to Versailles, to the palace, beheaded two guards.
Is that right?
WIDOW: They come to kill me.
Stockings, my stockings are tangled. Petticoat. Axes.
Hide my son.
GIRL: “Mama, I’m hungry.”
WIDOW: We’ll have oranges.
Other door. No, this. Let us in! Close the doors. Guardroom full of blood. Close it. Hide your eyes. Stop crying. Door won’t shut.
They’re stabbing the bed. They have to pretend to kill.
PROSECUTOR: The Queen on the balcony!
WIDOW: Like a swan—
PROSECUTOR: No children. The Queen alone.
WIDOW: Un, deux, trois, quatre—
VOICES: Shoot. Kill her. Freedom.
Silence. She curtseys. Cheers.
Vive la Reine! Long live the Queen!
PROSECUTOR: (as Lafayette) The Queen has been deceived. She vows she will be so no more.
WIDOW: That sniveling Lafayette.
PROSECUTOR: (as Lafayette) She promises to love the French as Jesus Christ loves his Church.
VOICES: Long live the Queen. Long live the King. Long live us all!
The King to Paris!
We have the baker, the baker’s wife and the baker’s son.
Now Paris will never lack bread again!
VOICES sing these lines as a round, continuing. Images. Blackout.
Lights up on WIDOW, LOUIS, and DAUPHIN doll at table.
WIDOW: Prisoner kings are never far from death.
This they call an Age of Enlightenment. The flames enlighten. They set us a world afire.
My children. . .
The Tuileries, our palatial prison.
GIRL: “I don’t like it, Mama. It’s ugly here.”
WIDOW: It was good enough for Louis XIV. It will do.
GIRL: (reciting) The King and Queen moved to Paris, and then they were loved again.
Then they declared war on Austria— No, that was after — No—
WIDOW: Careful. The steward is a spy. Does the sugar have a taste?
No poison. Lies. Lies will kill.
Waken the King. Sign these. Bribes. Orders to march. Ten regiments near the frontier.
Smile. Be charming. Be Queen.
Hallways. Echoes. The children cry. My little Dauphin, he’s not like his brother.
What are those shadows? Does the sugar taste?
Have you signed the papers? Sign the papers! You are the King!
Ten regiments ready to march!
GIRL: (as Louis) No. No bloodshed. Frenchmen killing Frenchmen, no.
They will float navies in blood, begin a letting of blood to last till we burn out the wound in the blaze of a thousand suns.
The Rights of Man, to shed blood, only blood, an endless bleeding womb.
It has begun.
WIDOW: We will let blood.
Surgeons do it with knives, we have armies.
Yes I will kill. I will lie, bribe, fight for my children’s lives, for the future, the state as God made it!
She embraces LOUIS.
Trianon. The garden is finished. The hamlet.
The leaves are turning now. Early chill.
GIRL: (as Louis) My hunting was interrupted. So be it. I am content.
PROSECUTOR: Who provided the carriage in which you fled?
WIDOW: A foreigner.
PROSECUTOR: What nation?
WIDOW: Swedish.
PROSECUTOR: Was it not Fersen, returned to Paris?
VOICE: To rescue my love.
Shadow image. WIDOW moves in abrupt tableaux.
WIDOW: Pack my jewels in cotton, small box.
We reach the frontier, meet our armies, we will have our freedom.
GIRL: “What are we doing?”
WIDOW: We are going to act in a play. We’re in disguise.
Nine o’clock, rain, the wind. Dresses. Little green dress, blue flowers.
No, a larger carriage. So much to pack.
Children. Sentries. Cross the courtyard, cross the hall.
All in black. Into the coach.
My son, we’re going to a place of battle. There will be many soldiers.
GIRL: “Let’s go.”
WIDOW: We have given these French their liberty. Now for ours.
My hairdresser alerts the escort troops.
Streets. Have I seen these streets?
GIRL: (reciting) They try to escape in a very conspicuous coach, and the hairdresser tells the troops to disperse, they’re caught near the border—
WIDOW: Varennes?
GIRL: I don’t know how to spell it.
PROSECUTOR: I bring the joyful word the royal family is arrested.
A hundred thousand men are standing guard.
WIDOW: They lead us back, mobs all the way.
Chalons. I was here before. My journey from Austria, yes.
The archway: Aeternum stet, ut amor. “It stands as long as our love.”
Twenty-one years ago. I spent the night here. They made a wonderful quiche.
Chouilly, the heat, man in the window spits on the King.
Hold up my son.
“Bitch! Don’t show us the kid. We know it’s not fat Louie’s.”
He looked like a drunken man.
Epernay, they want to kill us, tore my dress, can anyone find a seamstress?
My son on the Jacobin’s lap: “Look Mama, the buttons: ‘Live free or die.’”
WIDOW: Terrible pain to use the toilet. Town by town.
WIDOW: Arrive in Paris. The Tuileries.
Hallways. Alone. Mirror.
Looks in a mirror.
She seems to have white hair.
GIRL: That’s a picture of—
The King accepts the Constitution, they’re all happy again—
But he uses the veto, the mob attacks—
We order the Swiss Guards not to fire, they kill the Swiss Guards—
They put us in a tower at the Temple—
WIDOW: Will the people soon be weary? . . .
WIDOW goes through half-remembered motions as faces spy in background.
Rose early, received husband and children after breakfast alone.
We abstain from all in our diet where poison can be introduced.
Mass, then tapestry, embroidery, reading. I like to read.
Dine at one p.m., then billiards, receive a few friends.
Eight-thirty supper, to bed at eleven.
GIRL: (as Louis) From 1775 to 1791 I went out two thousand six hundred thirty-six times. I wrote it down.
WIDOW: All doors have sentries, checking to see I sleep.
Well. It is an advantage to be so watched, for all my words, desires, are devoted to the King.
Short hallways . . . make our kingdom simpler to comprehend.
We are content. All hatred must cease. . .
Until we have bayonets fixed.
She speaks to images.
Certainly the Constitution has advantages. ((A tissue of insolence.))
I am totally frank. That is my character. ((They revolt me.))
We shall stand against the foreign powers. ((Our only hope is the foreign powers.))
Send for Mirabeau. Twelve hundred thousand francs a month to clarify his thinking— No, he’s dead— Is this 1792?— Barnave, enlist his aid.
Troops have fired on the mob in the Champs de Mars. Marat, Danton, Desmoulins — the dogs cringe. Ally with the moderates, pretend to smile, intervene with Austria, pretend, pretend, they have schooled me in it.
Embroidery. Meetings. They cheer us again. Give us time.
Sign the decrees. Hand out the bribes. Be beautiful. The Prussians advance.
Write letters. Endless letters, smuggled.
I must improve my writing. Am I tracing over? No.
Show them to Mama, she would be proud.
GIRL: I always hold the pen wrong.
Shadow of FERSEN appears.
WIDOW: Many miles and many countries can never separate hearts.
I feel this truth every day.
Here is a ring. I have worn it two days.
Tell the Prussians they must attack Verdun.
Image fades. Crescendo of voices: an angry mob. She reads code marking.
Three marks. The Prussians win at Longwy.
VOICE: The natural, imprescriptible, inviolable, sacred rights of man—
WIDOW: Three marks. The Prussians win at Verdun.
VOICE: The principle of sovereignty resides in the nation—
WIDOW: I feel it. The Prussians march on Paris. We will be free.
VOICE: Under the auspices of the Supreme Being—
WIDOW: What is that noise? What are they shouting?
PROSECUTOR: They bring you the head of the Princess Lamballe.
They ask to see how you kiss your friend.
Shadow of doll. Hands violate and dismember it as GIRL reads from book, WIDOW frozen.
GIRL: In response to the loss of Verdun, the Commune opened nine prisons for massacre of prisoners.
Madame de Lamballe, dressed in white, was thrust between two lines of paid criminals and slashed down the front.
Pause. GIRL raises feather mask to face, continues reading.
The corpse was raped, then the heart, intestines and genitals ripped out and stuck on spikes, the trunk dragged naked through the streets.
On the way they dressed and powdered the hair of the head.
They wished the Queen to kiss her.
VOICE: At Valmy, the Prussians were defeated.
Blackout. Lights up slowly.
GIRL: (as Louis) It seems I am no longer King. They have taken a vote.
They like taking votes. All day they take votes.
WIDOW: Embroidery.
GIRL: (as Louis) You played that horrible play. Now we see the results.
WIDOW: And you played your American play. You gave those noble savages money, troops, you bled us dry.
Now we see the results.
GIRL: (as Louis) It was all a joke on the English.
WIDOW: I will laugh when I’m finished crying.
I do give these madmen thanks in a way. They give me a life in which I taste what is good. My husband, children. Loves that nourish.
GIRL: (as Louis) Would you call it love?
WIDOW: Love. Respect. Affection. The joy of being loved.
And there are blessings: You no longer make locks or plaster walls.
GIRL: (as Louis) We have enough locks and walls.
You suppose they’ll vote me a trade? M. Capet, locksmith to the King.
WIDOW: Jeweler to the Queen.
GIRL: (as Louis) Master of . . . all the hounds.
WIDOW: I love you.
That would be scandalous, no?
Remember our wedding: fireworks cupids? This great public lie, to celebrate our Love.
If they knew it became slowly true, they would be aghast.
GIRL: (as Louis) I should be hunting.
These people, explain it: We are prisoners, thrown to the mob, and yet they send you dressmakers — coats of Florence taffeta, fichus, furs, perfumes, “for the use of the tyrants,” the invoice said.
WIDOW: Do you think one can love two persons? In different ways?
What is your judgment as former tyrant?
GIRL: (as Louis) I have learned more is possible than one ever thought.
We are too young to rule.
WIDOW: It seems I love King Louis. And also . . . M. Capet.
Distant voices.
GIRL: (as Louis) They are only taking votes.
My trial before the Convention will begin. My trial has begun. My trial is done. So be it.
WIDOW screams. Holds LOUIS in embrace.
Forgive me all the evil you suffer for my sake. And the grief in our marriage, whenever.
And if she might feel she has any guilt, of anything, no, nothing but love.
WIDOW: There are plans for escape.
GIRL: (as Louis) Oh no. I cannot escape. I have promised to remain. I am an honest man.
Now I must go. I will see you in the morning at eight.
WIDOW: Why not at seven?
GIRL: (as Louis) Very well, yes. At seven.
LOUIS pulls away. WIDOW frozen.
Oh yes, I know they do evil.
But it seems the wrought iron that was lacework to us was prison bars to them.
Images of the execution of LOUIS. Artillery. WIDOW collapses. WIDOW embraces the DAUPHIN.
WIDOW: Long live the King!
PROSECUTOR: The child must be removed. He must lose all idea of his rank.
WIDOW clutches doll. GIRL gently removes it, leaving her twisted in labor pains.
VOICES: Back. Give her air. The Queen is about to give birth. Pull open the window. Dry incision.
PROSECUTOR: He will be given a proper education. He will sing patriotic songs.
He will love the people. He will learn the language of the people.
GIRL: (as Dauphin) “What’s that racket? Haven’t those damned whores been guillotined yet?”
Blackout. WIDOW in prison dress.
WIDOW: New prisons. They have no end of prisons here.
They’ve sealed the windows. No need for doors. One hallway leads to another.
Candles? Candlestubs? Any?
Sudden light blinding her.
Better. You bring the sun.
PROSECUTOR: These are your possessions seized at the Temple.
A packet of hair of various colors.
WIDOW: My dead and living children.
PROSECUTOR: Another packet of hair.
WIDOW: My husband.
PROSECUTOR: A paper with figures on it.
WIDOW: For teaching my son to count.
PROSECUTOR: A wallet with scissors, needles, a mirror, gold ring, a paper on which is written ‘Prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.’
A portrait of a woman. Who is the portrait?
WIDOW: Madame de Lamballe.
PROSECUTOR: Two other portraits of women. Who are these?
WIDOW: Two ladies in Vienna. Mesdames de Mecklembourg and de Hesse. My governesses.
May I have these items?
PROSECUTOR: They will be kept safe.
VOICE: Is it true that there have been communications with foreign powers, tending to supply these enemies with monetary help, to assist them in their invasion of France, and to facilitate advance of their armies?
PROSECUTOR: (simultaneously) Did you ask the minister of war to let you know the exact state of the French Army?
WIDOW: (simultaneously) Yes.
PROSECUTOR: (simultaneously) Was this not to inform the King of Hungary?
WIDOW: (simultaneously) There was no need. The public papers would have told him all about it.
VOICE: Is it true that Marie Antoinette of Austria, widow of Louis Capet, participated in these machinations and was instrumental in maintaining these communciations?
PROSECUTOR: (simultaneously) At the time of your marriage, did you not intend to unite Lorraine with Austria.
WIDOW: (simultaneously) No.
PROSECUTOR: (simultaneously) You bear its name?
WIDOW: (simultaneously) One must bear the name one is given.
VOICE: Is it true there was a plot to bring about civil war?
That Marie Antoinette of Austria led this conspiracy?
PROSECUTOR: (simultaneously) You welcomed the outbreak of war—
WIDOW: (simultaneously) No.
PROSECUTOR: (simultaneously) The massacre of the Champs de Mars—
PROSECUTOR: There are papers that prove it. We have the proof.
WIDOW: Produce the papers.
PROSECUTOR: The papers have been misfiled. We have witnesses who have spoken to those who are said to have seen the papers.
Do you think kings are necessary to the people’s good?
WIDOW: How can one person decide?
PROSECUTOR: No doubt you regret your son should have lost a throne?
WIDOW: I shall never regret my son’s loss, should it prove to be his country’s gain.
PROSECUTOR: We have here the testimony of your son, the little Capet.
VOICE: Young Capet was surprised in indecent defilements, baneful to his constitution. When asked who taught him this criminal act, he named his mother and aunt. These women made him lie down between them for uncontrolled debauchery. There had been an act of incest between the mother and son.
PROSECUTOR: What reply to this deposition?
WIDOW: No knowledge.
PROSECUTOR: I point out your testimony opposes your son’s.
WIDOW: It is easy to make a child of eight say whatever one wants.
PROSECUTOR: Plain answer please.
WIDOW: (enraged) If I make no reply, it is because nature recoils from such a charge against a mother.
I appeal to all mothers present here.
Tumult. Voices in protest.
GIRL: “We killed the fat pig. Let his whore go free.”
PROSECUTOR: (over noise) Have you nothing to add to your defense?
WIDOW: I was Louis Sixteen’s wife. I did his will.
Lights change. GIRL clings to WIDOW.
GIRL: This time we’ll change the ending. We’ll make it different.
All the little mistakes, where I didn’t do my lessons, they’re easy to change.
We have servants, I’ll tell my servants to use the old candles.
And I can read books—
PROSECUTOR: The court brings a finding of Guilty.
Antoinette, have you any objection?
GIRL looks up, surprised. Blackout. Music. Light on WIDOW at table.
WIDOW: To you, my husband’s sister, I write.
I have just been condemned, not to shameful death, but to join your brother.
Like him innocent, I hope to display the same firmness as he.
I am calm. My conscience holds no reproach.
I regret to abandon my children. You know I lived for them.
I learned at the trial my daughter is separated from you. I dare not write her, she would not receive it.
My blessing on them both.
I must mention what pains my heart.
Forgive this child, dear sister. Remember his age, how easy it is to make a child say what he doesn’t understand.
I now confide in you my last thoughts.
I die in the Catholic, Apostolic, Roman religion, the religion of my father, not even knowing if there still exist any priests of that religion here. They will perhaps bring me a conformist priest, but I shall not speak him a word.
I beg pardon of God for the faults of my life. I hope He may receive my soul in His mercy.
I ask pardon of all, and of you my sister, for all the pain I may, without wishing, have caused.
I had . . . friends.
Separation forever from friends is one of my greatest regrets.
Let them know that my last moment I thought of them.
Farewell, my sister. Think of me.
I embrace you with all my heart, and my children.
Oh God! My children!—
She breaks off. Blackout. GIRL as SERVANT.
GIRL: What do you want this morning?
GIRL: You ate nothing last night, nothing all day.
WIDOW: My child, I need nothing. Everything is done.
GIRL: There’s some soup.
WIDOW: Well Rosalie, bring me your soup. Come back at eight to help me dress.
Rosalie, I’ve. . . I’m stained with blood. I need clean linen.
Half remembered gestures from past. GIRL returns with garment. Shadows of SENTRIES.
In the name of decency, messieurs, allow me to change my linen without witnesses.
PROSECUTOR: I could not permit it. My orders are to watch your movements.
WIDOW crouches, changes.
WIDOW: You think they will let me die without tearing me in pieces?
Rosalie, you know they are going to kill me. . .
PROSECUTOR: Pay attention. Your sentence will be read.
WIDOW: It is pointless to read it. I know it.
PROSECUTOR: No matter. It must be read. Hold out your hands.
WIDOW: Are my hands to be bound? Louis’ hands were not bound.
Shadow of EXECUTIONER. Drums. WIDOW mimes having hands forced. Begins to walk, facing forward. GIRL at distance also begins walk, echoing hers.
PROSECUTOR: Walking between rows of gendarmes, she saw the cart. She lost control.
She asked them to unbind her hands, and in the corner she squatted down.
Then rose and held out her hands again to be bound.
WIDOW: I can hardly see to walk.
There. The cart. They took Louis in a carriage.
Ride facing backward, back at what’s passing, what’s past.
They must be screaming at me. I can’t hear it. All the same words—
Oh, the Opera. Palais Royal. The terrace we stood on. . .
The Madeleine cemetery, no coffin, no grave, they want to get to their dinners, they lay the body on the grass, the head between the legs—
No. No, we’re here.
Down from the cart, finish it, thirsty, yes, right, left, up the ladder, my executioner—
Stumbles. Shadow holds foot in pain.
Pardon, Monsieur. I did not do it on purpose.
Sound of bell.
Quarter past noon.
As voice continues, GIRL and WIDOW move together, merge, GIRL facing front.
VOICE: Her face an elongated oval, nose aquiline, eyes keen vivid blue.
She had the Habsburg lip, what some might term a disdain, but simply no words for her dazzling complexion, a blend of lilies and roses.
In her ash-blond hair, swept up, only the lightest sprinkle of powder, and the way she had of holding her head, her queenly carriage, the elegance and grace.
She won all hearts!
GIRL: It’s only a play.
Sound of guillotine falling. Strike. GIRL looks up, startled. Blackout.
Light up slowly on Prosecutor.
PROSECUTOR: I was one of those, brothers and sisters, who judged the woman, she who was once called Queen.
In the Revolution’s course, our service was rewarded.
Of the eight court officers, only three escaped the guillotine.
Of twelve jurors, three dodged the blade.
Of the witnesses, fourteen climbed the stairs.
I myself counted the steps.
We filed from the courtroom, dying men, to devour a lavish feast.
Late autumn, and heavy clouds gathered, they muffled the sky.
France, Austria, Prussia, Britain, the New World. . . New World? . . . The blackened skies.
The war went ten, then twenty years, and on.
Wars die, and they resurrect. Lazarus walks bleeding.
Read the archives.
Centuries, for centuries, my God!
Clear the skies.
Fade on PROSECUTOR. Momentary image of GIRL and WIDOW. Blackout.