Excerpts from Marie Antoinette
Marie Antoinette of Lorraine and Austria, widow of Louis Capet, sometime King of France.
Thirty-eight years of age.
Place of arrest.
I am in care of the National Assembly. Lodged in the Temple.
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?
Was it not you who taught Louis Capet the perfidy whereby he deceived the people of France?
It is true the people has been deceived. Not by me.
By those who profit by it.
Who profits by this deception?
I do not know. Perhaps I am deceived.
Plain answer please.
I would answer if I knew the names. I do not know.
(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.
Is it time for a play?
(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.
What did you do today?
(as Louis) I would have hunted if it hadn’t rained. I worked at my forge.
Your hands are dirty.
(as Louis) Learning to make locks.
For our cage.
Forge a hat rack. You never know what to do with your hat.
(as Louis) When I’m King I’ll do away with hats.
They play with one another’s hands. Shadows of ambassadors behind.
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.
Do you really love me?
(as Louis) Yes. Yes, I— Yes.
You’re changed for the better. When we first married, you hardly spoke.
(as Louis) Two years, I’ve had some time.
I wonder if . . . at all . . . if you . . .
I do love you sincerely. Yes.
(as Louis) Oh. Well then. We will continue with prayers, and I believe all will go well.
We must abide by God’s will.
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.
Joseph. Are you going to scold me?
(as Joseph) As Co-regent of Austria? Or as eldest brother?
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.
(as Joseph) My curse since childhood. Blind to all but truth.
Is truth so grouchy gloomy?
(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.
So we are sister and brother at war? Will some governess shout to stop fighting?
(as Joseph) No. I thirst for your silliness, music long absent from life.
I drink it, pure dew.
How do you like my aunts?
(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.
(as Joseph) Lumpish and slow.
But he has an adequate mind. He is honest. He has the heart I lack.
And the Queen?
(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.
This is France.
(as Joseph) You scandalize even the French with your immodesty.
Immodesty? I bathe in a flannel gown, buttoned up to the neck.
(as Joseph) With diamonds, no doubt.
I look at my diamonds when I choose. I am not required to hold court for my diamonds.
(as Joseph) You are never at court. The nobility murmur. And the people.
Can the people’s love depend on the way we treat strutting geese?
(as Joseph) You spend hours with your prancing pigeon, Madame de Polignac.
When I am with her, I am no longer Queen, I am myself.
(as Joseph) Pardon. I mistook you for the Queen.
I am Queen.
(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.
I do nothing of my own. I trace over letters of words.
(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!
I do nothing indecent.
(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.
Axel. . . Love you. . .
A man who can love as a man. . .
First words of his voice. . .
Re-masks, stands as JOSEPH.
I have no lovers.
I resemble my mother too little in some things, too much in others.
I am glutted with virtue.
(as Joseph) You are married seven years.
(as Joseph) You have not borne an heir to secure the Austrian treaty.
I can’t make the baby myself.
(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.
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.
You enjoy life at court?
(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.
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?
(as Fersen) If they could see your eyes. . .
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?
(as Fersen) That would describe a Swede.
You are a foreigner too.
I can’t remember the color of your eyes.
(as Fersen) Did you never look?
Often. Different colors at different hours of the day.
Once in the garden, in the afternoon—
(as Fersen) Look now.
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!—
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.