THEATER Review: Tina Packer Stars in “Mother of the Maid” @ Shakespeare & Co. [Berkshire on Stage]
Theater review by Gail M. Burns
Ever heard of Isabelle Romée (1377–1458)? She was married to a man named Jacques d’Arc and they had a daughter named Jeanne, known in English as Joan. Joan d’Arc. Joan of Arc. The Maid of Orleans. Saint Joan.
I had always been presented with Joan of Arc (1412-1431) as a peasant girl, but in fact her family was what we today would consider solidly middle class. They owned and farmed several acres. Isabelle spun wool, while Jacques also held a minor position in the village government as a tax collector. Yes, they were illiterate; the majority of people were back then. After Joan went to court, the family was ennobled in 1429 by King Charles VII, the former dauphin who Joan had brought to the throne. After Joan’s death, Isabelle moved to Orleans, where she received a pension from that city.
Turns out the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. While Isabelle’s life was far less spectacular than her daughter’s, she was an intelligent and tenacious woman who devoted the second half of her life to clearing Joan’s name. This required her to learn to read and write so that she could petition a series of Popes and argue her case before church courts, and to travel internationally. Over the course of four years from 1452-1456, the posthumous retrial of Joan’s case involved clergy from all across Europe and concluded with her being cleared of all charges and labeled a martyr instead of a heretic. Incidentally, the crime for which Joan was burned alive was cross-dressing, and she wasn’t canonized until 1920.