Peter Gill, playwright and theatre director
Danton references
Home | Up | News | Productions | Pieces | Résumé | Pictures | Studio | Publications | Links


Bookmark and Share

French Revolution and Classical References

from the programme of Peter Gill's National Theatre production of Georg Büchner's Danton's Death

Pupil of Socrates. Greek statesman whose friends were not reconciled to his individualism.
Athenian statesman ("the Just") renowned for his integrity.
Rising of 10 August 1792 captured the Tuileries and imprisoned the Royal family. 376 demonstrators killed or wounded and Swiss Guard at the Tuileries massacred. Between 2-4 September, extremist sans-culottes (cf.) forced their way into the Paris prisons murdering 1100-1400 prisoners.
Phrygian peasant woman who, with her husband, personified domestic harmony.
Symbol of liberty since Roman times when slaves went bareheaded. In Revolutionary France, modelled on the bonnet du pauvre, a serviceable woollen bonnet covering head and ears. The colour was retained because it was striking. The bloody connotations arose later. In general wear by men from autumn 1792 as"un emblème virile, un insigne de guerre." July 1794 saw a reaction against the bonnet, regarded as a Jacobin symbol.
Presided over the execution of his sons when they were found to be conspiring to restore monarchy in the Roman Republic. His descendant, Marcus Junius Brutus, was one of the murderers of Julius Caesar.
Lucius Sergius Catiline (109-62 BC) a former noble who fought the Roman Senate and was opposed by Cicero. Danton was referred to as"the Catiline of the Revolution."
Stoic and defender of liberty, Cato lived out his beliefs rather over-dogmatically. His great-grandson, Cato of Utica, committed suicide after being defeated by Caesar in the civil war.
A Capuchin friar, bom 1759. Deputy to the National Assembly, he was condemned for manipulating the shares of the Compagnie des Indes and guillotined with Danton on 5 April 1794.
17 July 1791, the National Guard, under Lafayette (cf.), fired on a crowd assembled in the Champs de Mars killing twelve people. This was shortly after the King's attempted flight to Varennes and helped turn popular opinion against the monarchy.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, son of a horologist. His Contrat Social was the"bible" of many Revolutionary leaders. He declared the State could not be healthy without religion.
Proposed by Camille Desmoulins in the fourth number of Le Vieux Cordelier (24 December 1793):"I think very differently from those who tell you that the Terror must be left as the order of the day. On the contrary, I am certain that liberty would be consolidated and Europe conquered if you were to have a Committee of Clemency. It is this Committee which will finally accomplish the Revolution; for clemency is also a revolutionary measure, the most efficacious of all, when it is used with wisdom"
One of the two principal Government Committees in charge of police and internal security.
The most important Government Committee controlling internal and external policy. In police and judicial business its function overlapped with that of the Committee of General Security.
Established in the popular insurrection of 10 August 1792. Each of the 48 Sections which went to make up the municipality of Paris sent 3 delegates, supplemented, after the rising of 31 May 1793 by a further 96 delegates. The Commune provided a pressure group for radical policies well to the left of the more conservative departments of provincial France.
The Société des Amis des Droits de l'homme et du citoyen which met in the Franciscan monastery, Rue des Cordeliers. The Cordeliers always more radical than the Jacobins, had come to be dominated by the extremist Hébertists. Hence the"old" and"new" Cordeliers. The newspaper Camille Desmoulins edited was called the Vieux Cordelier.
Model Roman matron, mother of the Gracchi, two republican tribunes murdered by the aristocratic party 133 and 121
Georges Couthon (1755-94), extreme Montagnard (cf. Mountain and Plain) and, with Robespierre and Saint-Just, one of the Triumvirate who controlled the Committee of Public Safety. His legs were paralysed and he worked from a wheelchair. Guillotined with Robespierre, 28 July 1794.
Louis David (1748-1825), great Revolutionary painter, always strategically placed to catch a dying fall. Deputy, member of the Jacobin club and friend of Robespierre. Imprisoned on Robespierre's fall, July 1794.
The Committee of Public Safety, nominally ten members, twelve from July 1793.
A deputy to the National Assembly. The decree of 24 August 1793 suppressed all joint-stock companies, following denunciations by Delaunay, Chabot, and Fabre d'Eglantine who were at the same time playing the market as the price of shares plummeted.
Re-issued in 1777 in a 2-volume pocket edition.
Novelty-loving, reformist prince of the blood. Freemason. The gardens of his residence, the Palais-Royal (cf.), became centre of political agitation. Deputy (Paris) 1792. Awarded title l'Egalité by Paris Commune. Guillotined by Revolutionary Tribunal, November 1793.
Reformer, general, and Jacobin. Allied himself with Danton and the Girondins (cf.). Deserted to Austria after his defeat at Neerwinden (March 1793).
Deputy to the National Assembly, arraigned with Chabot and Delaunay (cf.) on charges of speculation and financial malpractice.
Republican in Lyons who committed suicide, despairing of support from the Jacobin Government.
Moderate Jacobins from the Gironde, led by, amongst others, Jacques-Pierre Brissot and Antoine de Condorcet. Sought power for an enlightened bourgeoisie. Guillotined ("the twenty-two") 31 October 1793.
The"simple mechanism" which, with humane intentions, brought the"privilege" of the nobility to the people after the Revolution. A brainchild of Dr Guillotin, it was"perfected" by Dr Louis of the Academy of Surgery and others. First used on 26 April 1792. Called La Guillotine after a popular song of 1789.
After the death of Marat (cf. Saint Marat), the most extreme faction amongst the Jacobins, grouped around Jacques Hébert, editor of Le Père Duchesne. Hébert and his immediate followers, though not all his sympathisers, were executed 24 March 1794.
Took its name from the Dominican or"Jacobin" convent where it met. Called the Société des Jacobins, amis de la Liberté et de l'Egalité from September 1792. A power-house of ideas and views later developed in the Assembly and dominated by Robespierre. The Dantonists were members, though Danton, Legendre, and Camille Desmoulins had their roots in the more plebeian Cordeliers Club.
Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834). At first prominent reformer. Ordered National Guard to fire on demonstrators in the Champs de Mars (July 1791) - the"Massacre" Deserted to Austria after the rising of 10 August 1792.
One of the nine principal prisons of Paris. Among others were the Temple, the Conciergerie, and the Luxembourg.
Robespierre, son of a poor lawyer, was born in Arras. In his early career he returned to practice in his native town.
Second son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, Dauphin from June 1789. Died from scrofula and neglect June 1795.
Famous Roman lady who killed herself in despair after rape by the son of Tarquin the Great, an event which served as a pretext for the overthrow of royalty in Rome, 510 BC.
Medea, sailing with the Argonauts, killed her brother Absyrtos and threw his limbs into the sea to delay pursuit by her family.
Comte de Mirabeau (1749-91). Bold reformer and outstanding orator. Increasingly played double role. Died at height of renewed popularity (April 1791), but his remains ordered to be removed from Pantheon when his memoranda to Louis XVI were discovered (November 1792).
The Emperor of Austria and the King of Prussia who had invaded France.
Groupings of the deputies, so called from the original arrangement of seating in the manege or riding-school where the Assembly met in Paris until 1793. The benches in front of the President, six deep, were known as the Plain and were occupied by moderate Deputies. Benches on his left were ranked more steeply in banks of nine. The Jacobins took these seats - so resembling a mountain. From September 1792 the"Mountain" included all the Paris deputies plus Couthon and Saint-Just, and acknowledged Robespierre as its leader. By extension"montagnard" meant anyone sharing their views.
Correctly the Constituent Assembly (June 1789 to Sept 91); Legislative Assembly (October 1791 to August 92); National Convention (September 1792 to October 95).
Gardens of the town house of Duc d'Orleans, hotbed of political intrigue. Camille Desmoulins called it"le foyer de patriotisme, le rendezvous de l'élite des patriotes." It was also the red-light district of Paris at the time.
Provincial courts before 1789 who were required to register royal decrees and might remonstrate when so doing.
England joined the war against France in 1793 when the execution of Louis XVI led to formation of a coalition between the two countries already fighting France (Austria and Prussia), and Britain, Holland, Spain, and Sardinia. The British navy had command of the sea. The British fleet, which had come to the aid of the royalists in Toulon had taken off 15,000 royalists before the town fell to the Republicans. William Pitt was British Prime Minister from December 1783 (when still only 24) to 1801, and 1804-06.
Legendary king of Cyprus, fell in love with statue which was given life by Aphrodite.
Augustin Robespierre (1764-94). Lawyer. Deputy (Paris) 1792. Guillotined with Robespierre, 28 July 1794.
Republican general recalled from the Vendee after exactions there. Guillotined with the Hébertists.
Jean-Paul Marat, revolutionary and journalist who called for a dictatorship"in the name of the people". Assassinated in his bath by a Girondist sympathiser, Charlotte Corday (July 1793). Joseph Chalier, an extreme Republican, suffered a particularly atrocious death by guillotine in the Lyons uprising. The heart of Marat and the head of Chalier were venerated as almost divine.
Caius Sallustius Crispus, Roman historian 86 to 35 BC, wrote his The Conspiracy of Catiline (63 BC), giving a brilliant portrayal of the degeneration of public morality under the rule of nobles.
People of the lower social orders who wore trousers instead of breeches and stockings. The term came to denote the radical members of the Paris sections (not proletarians necessarily - many were shopkeepers or owned small factories) who provided Robespierre with a power base for his radically democratic policies. The Dantonists upturned sans-culottism: "I believe that liberty does not consist in an equality of privation and that the greatest praise of the Assembly would be if it could declare to itself: I found a nation without breeches, and I left it breeched" Le Vieux Cordelier, number 6.
In 399 BC Socrates was charged with neglecting the gods of the state, introducing new divinites, and corrupting the morals of the young. He was sentenced to death and drank hemlock after refusing to break the laws of the state by escaping from prison.
Robespierre declared the"necessity of a belief in the Supreme Being" to counter the extremism of the anticlerical Hébertists (cf). His proposals were accepted (May 1794) and he led a great Festival of the Supreme Being (June 1794).
Historian of the Roman Empire, a republican born out of his time, he used his masterly condensation of events ("he abbreviated all because he saw all" Montesquieu) to explore his view that power corrupted and impotence led to degeneration. His writings were the object of renewed interest at the time of the French Revolution.
The rock from which prisoners were cast to their death in Ancient Rome.
The month which ran from 19 July to 17 August in the Revolutionary calendar, adopted in October 1793. 9th and 10th Thermidor (27/28 July 1794) saw the arrest of Robespierre and his followers, and their condemnation without trial and execution.
Killed his daughter Virginia to prevent her sale into slavery (449 BC).  


Home | Up | French Revolution | Danton references | Georg Büchner | Review by Robert F. Gross | Revolutionary rhythms

Send mail to with questions or comments about this web site.  Copyright © 1999-2012

Last modified: 2012-03-15