Mother of the Maid: Fact or Fiction

by Northlight Theatre

Mother of the Maid by Jane Anderson, follows the Joan of Arc saga—from her visions through her execution—told through the lens of her mother. Part modern family drama, part period piece, the play toes the line of history and fiction. So what’s true?

The quiz below outlines some key points in the play and their grounding (or not) in history. Where Anderson has taken liberties, we must assume authorial intent and ask ourselves “why?” Why would Anderson make changes to what we know of history?

The simplest answer is, well, dramatic effect. The image presented in the play of Isabelle “[meeting] with the pope and [telling] that man in the hat that her daughter was no bloody heretic” is much stronger than that which actually took place historically, Isabelle meeting with representatives of the Vatican in Paris. Through this process, Isabelle did “clear her Joanie’s name”, so does it matter if the method described in the play is not the exact method Isabelle used? This writer would argue that it does not, and that, at its core, this is a play about what it means to parent an extraordinary child, as opposed to a detailed historical play-by-play of Joan’s journey. Anderson’s loyalty is to the story she wants to tell, not to exclusive historical accuracy. In short, the Author’s Note in the script tells us all we need to know, “This is not intended to be a history play.”

The truth is, based on our research, we aren’t sure whether Isabelle was able to see her daughter in prison before she died. It is just as likely as it is not. But, Anderson’s version of a mother giving her daughter strength in her final moments strikes at the essence of this complicated play.