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The Massacre: Taken from the French. A tragedy, of three acts, in prose. By Mrs. Inchbald

Authors of source text

Louis-Sébastien Mercier


Elizabeth Inchbald
G.G.J. and J. Robinson (George Robinson)

Related resources

is translation of
Jean Hennuyer, évêque de Lisieux has translation

Held by


Inchbald's play is a free adaptation of Mercier's text set during the August 1572 Bartholomew Day Massacres.

In it, Inchbald provides a defence of women's right to bear arms, in opposition, for example, to Mary Wollstonecraft's insistence that she would never "advise [women] to turn their distaff into a musket" ('Vindication', 1792, p.28). Unfortunately, its publication in September 1792 coincided with the week-long September Massacres, when mobile vigilante groups 'tried' and murdered large numbers of priests, nobles and others incarcerated in the Paris prisons. Perhaps as a result of this coincidence, the play was never published or performed during Inchbald's lifetime.

According to Wendy C. Nielsen, Inchbald's publisher Robinson printed but withdrew 'The Massacre' from publication following advice from William Godwin (another of his authors who had earlier critiqued Inchbald's 'The Simple Story' (1791)). The motivation for his censorship (he also incinerated Mary Wollstonecraft's only known play) is unclear although we do have Inchbald's response from 24 November 1792, "It was in your hinting to me that [The Massacre] might do harm, which gave me the idea that it might do good" ('A Tragic Farce: Revolutionary Women in Elizabeth Inchbald's 'The Massacre' and European Drama', European Romantic Review, vol.17, no.3, July 2006, pp.275-88). See also Taylor, 'The French Revolution and the London stage', p.98.

In a footnote, Inchbald notes the similarity with the current "late massacre at Paris" and the inclusion of this and other references has caused many scholars to assume that Inchbald adapted her play in direct response to these Massacres when the timing shows this not to be the case and any references to the event were added afterwards. A letter from George Colman, manager of the Haymarket theatre, confirms that he received a copy of the script on 7th February 1792 (See Forster Collection, V&A Museum, MS 116).

Sarah Burdett argues that its inspiration came in response to a petition presented to the Legislative Assembly on 6 March 1792 (usually incorrectly cited as 1791, due to a misprint) by Pauline Léon, the militant Cordeliers Club activist, demanding martial rights for women at a time when only (male) members of the National Guard could bear arms.

Burdett suggests that Inchbald provides a dramatised justification of Léon's argument, especially by changing the final scene so that Eusebe's wife can no longer defend herself or her children. See '"Feminine virtues violated": motherhood, female militancy and revolutionary violence in Elizabeth Inchbald's The Massacre (1792)', Dandelion vol.5 no.1, Summer 2014. While no translation of Léon's speech appears to have been published, it would have been recorded in British press accounts of National Assembly debates.

Preface in online version in Gale (BL) seems incomplete, try to consult physical copy.