EXCERPT FROM THE PROGRAM
Below is an excerpt from the dramaturgy pages of The Revolutionists program.
With a full story to her name, Marie Antoinette’s life is often boiled down to four simple words—“Let them eat cake!”—words that, according to most historians, she didn’t even say.
Legendary female figures like Marie Antoinette are often reduced to myths of their beauty or sex appeal. But what of their brains? Their leadership? Their talents? These facts are often missing from the collective memory, however, women as leaders and heroes isn’t a myth. It’s reality—just not the reality that’s most often told.
Take a look into just a few stories of now-legendary women who represent much more than just a pretty face.
The myth: No doubt when you hear the name “Cleopatra” you have visions of a beautiful Egyptian seductress a la Elizabeth Taylor as the famous Queen of the Nile. Cleopatra’s beauty and sex appeal have become something of legend.
The real woman: In reality, Cleopatra’s intellect was what made her so irresistible. She spoke more than a dozen languages and was every bit the intellectual equal of her male counterparts.
Cleopatra was also a fierce military leader. After her marriage to Marc Anthony (which caused great scandal), the Roman Senate declared war on Cleopatra. During the battles, she personally led dozens of Egyptian warships into war alongside Antony’s fleet.
In a time when Egypt was in turmoil, Cleopatra held the country together and proved to be as powerful a leader as any man.
JOAN OF ARC
The myth: The legend of Joan of Arc generally involves the image of a young girl who, through divine guidance, led troops into battle in France. She met her end when she was burned at the stake, accused of being a witch.
The real woman: Indeed, Joan of Arc—who was actually named Jehanne d’Arc—was the 15th century French girl who had visions of saints who told her to support King Charles VII and help rid France of the English. Joan became an instrumental military leader and warrior, capturing Orleans, Paris and numerous other towns in an effort to free France from the English.
Contrary to popular belief, Joan (who officially became Saint Joan, in 1920) was not burned at the stake for witchcraft. By May 1431, Joan had 12 charges brought against her—most of which had to do with her wearing men’s clothing in battle. She was offered life imprisonment in exchange for an admission of guilt, however, she defied orders by donning men’s clothes and again claiming contact with saints. These two acts earned Joan a conviction as a “relapsed heretic” and sent her to the stake.
“Marie Antoinette was a woman, a mother, a scared mortal person not just a queen. The fun of writing about historical women is in revealing their humanity, not indulging their mythology. “
- Lauren Gunderson
The myth: The most famous of Henry VIII’s many wives, Anne Boleyn is often remembered for being a manipulating seductress who took Catherine of Aragon’s place on the British throne. Later, she was accused of witchcraft and beheaded.
The real woman: As a child in England, Anne was said to have had a hunger for knowledge, always reading and studying all of the books that she could. This set her apart from other young ladies of noble families. When later serving in the French court, she shocked many with her fluency in French and her knowledge of diplomacy, history and politics. It is said that her level of knowledge and intelligence put many noble men to shame.
Anne and King Henry married without the blessing of the pope and Anne gave birth to Elizabeth (who would later become one of the England’s most revered queens). Anne took her role as Queen seriously, focusing much of her efforts on improving the quality of life for the poor. Despite this dedication to the poor, however, she was seen as a status seeker and was generally disliked by the public.
Anne was later falsely accused of incest and adultery. She remained calm and articulate while on trial. On May 19, 1536 she was beheaded at the Tower of London.
The myth: Your knowledge of “Evita” may be limited to the musical based on her life, which probably invokes the image of a beautiful woman in a white dress on a balcony with her arms outstretched triumphantly.
The real woman: Born into poverty in rural Argentina, Eva left home at the age of 15 and started a career in the theatre. After moving to Buenos Aires, she began campaigning for women to have the right to vote. She met a prominent politician, Juan Domingo Peron, and the two married in 1945. Six months later, she became the First Lady of Argentina.
As First Lady, she championed such causes as women’s rights and improvement for the very poor. For the poor and lower class, she was seen as a savior; the military and upper class saw her as a threat. In 1952, she was given the title of “Spiritual Chief of the Nation,” however, just six months later, she died tragically young from a battle with cancer.
Evita remains an important symbol for emancipation—especially for Latin American women—and she established a lasting humanitarian and political legacy.