Edmund Eyre’s The Maid of Normandy; or, Charlotte Corday in Anglo-Irish Docudrama


Jacques-Louis David’s famous portrait, The Death of Marat, has garnered Charlotte Corday’s assassination of Jean-Paul Marat attention in art history. However, theatre critics have not sufficiently explored the wealth of European plays that stage this dramatic event. Scholars know very little about dramas depicting Charlotte Corday and Marat because in the 1790s they were performed outside of London or in unlicensed playhouses. Yet a trail of newspaper accounts and dramatizations of Corday’s story in France, England, and Ireland demonstrates a shared set of preoccupations 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 the production and afterlife of Edmund John Eyre’s (1767–1816) play, The Maid of Normandy; or, the Death of the Queen of France (1794/1804). Eyre’s play, first performed in Dublin, Ireland in 1794, was denied a license by the English censor because it openly referenced 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, Female Heroism (1803). Anglo-Irish translations of Marat’s assassin carry with them a specifically French mode of performance. Docudramas that chronicle the French Revolution cannot escape its embedded theatricality and rely on dramatic allegory. In the case of Charlotte Corday, they reproduce the hagiography of Liberty, the woman who sacrifices love and life for her country.

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