I just finished reading Paule Becquaert's Le Jugement Secret, and I really don't know what to think of it. Naturally, it was incredibly depressing, but I knew that it would be just from the premise--it takes place during Thermidor, after all. There were some parts of it that were very moving, certainly, but it was more upsetting than I could have imagined. Here's why: the play is divided into three acts, one in which Robespierre is judged by the Ancient Greeks, one by the Romans, and one by the early Christians.
The first group, the Greeks, are made up of (as described in the character list):
Solon, Athenian politician
Agis, king of Sparta
Homer and Aristophanes, poets
Themistocles, Athenian statesman
Ariane, a young girl (this last doesn't get to give an official judgment, for obvious reasons)
Now, you might think, because this is a play written by a Robespierriste, that they would find Robespierre innocent. Not at all; only Homer and Agis find him not guilty; all the rest condemn him.
The Romans (Brutus, politician; Fabricius Luscinus, consul; Sylla, dictator; Antonia, a young girl--who also doesn't get a judgment) also condemn him, this time unanimously.
The Christians break the pattern, because they don't really give an official judgment; the "old man" of the first scene of the third act doesn't give one at all, and "Juses, a young man" (who, I think, is supposed to represent Jesus, even if his name is a bit different) and "Blandine, a young girl" are both favorably disposed to him.
Now, perhaps it's just me, but it seems a bit unlikely that ancient Greeks and Romans, knowing only the basic facts of Robespierre's life and having listened to his defense rather than the calumnies of the Thermidorians, would all condemn him (Homer and Agis aside--and also Ariane, Antonia, and Blandine, who all find him both sincere in his defense and attractive). I was, admittedly, a bit upset when I read that. But I considered that the author must have had a reason for having them condemn him.
I think it may be that the play can be read on several levels. First of all, Becquaert leaves it somewhat ambiguous whether this judgment is really happening or whether it's a dream Robespierre is having when he's lying wounded on the table of the CSP. In the latter case, the reproaches of the figures from Antiquity might be meant to represent those that Robespierre might make to himself: especially given that many of them are rather unfair and we often judge ourselves more harshly than we deserve. Another version of that would be to say that they represent what he thinks (on a subconscious level, at least) those Greeks and Romans would think about him.
In the former case, Becquaert could be saying one of several things. The first is perhaps that the men of Antiquity were just human too, and thus they have their own prejudices and imperfections--maybe subtly implying by this that the Revolutionaries who used them as examples may have thought too highly of them. (Because whether they say Robespierre is guilty or not guilty, they all seem to measure him against themselves. For example, Agis judges him not guilty because he says he knows what it's like to be a reformer and have to deal with people who don't want whatever the present way of doing things is to be changed, whereas Socrates judges him guilty because according to him he did not do enough to educate the people--that is, he didn't go out among them, as Socrates is said to have done, and ask them uncomfortable and thought-provoking questions.)
She could also be commenting more generally on how it's impossible for a person to rightly judge another person, and whether that other person happens to be Robespierre or not is irrelevant. Or it's possible she's condemning the idea that 18th century people and events can be judged by Greek or Roman standards. From which I would assume a more general critique of trying to judge the 18th century by any standards but its own. And then there's the point of view of literary value: no one, as sad as this is, would think it plausible if they all, or even a majority of them, acquitted him. And it would remove most of the drama. Besides, Becquaert does seem to imply--and rather strongly, at that--that it is Robespierre's destiny to be misunderstood. And certainly, it's happened enough historically that it would feel like too much of an easy way out if his "judges" had acquitted him...
Still, I can't help but feel that some of the judgments either are some kind of misunderstanding or reflect the difference between the circumstances of Rome especially and of late 18th century France. I'll admit I was rather upset by the Romans' judgments especially (probably in part because, unlike the Greeks, they condemned Robespierre unanimously):
"BRUTUS: We have deliberated. Here is our judgment. Fabricius, your verdict.
FABRICIUS, to Robespierre: Virtue was only the instrument of your power over your fellow men. You made them your slaves. I vote for death.
SYLLA, advancing: Me too, for you did not find a way to stop the brutal course of your revolution, nor to retire forthrightly when you still had time.
BRUTUS: Death, because you deserve it.
ROBESPIERRE: You? But that's insane! How can a republican want the death of another republican?
BRUTUS: You were not a sincere republican and the republic, on your lips, was but a vain ornament with which you seasoned your speeches. You used it only to establish your authority."
Now, obviously, I don't think Becquaert is saying that these Romans have accurately characterized him, but the possibility that she finds those judgments inevitable on the surface is rather troubling. :/
I can't say I really understood the last act, with the early Christians, but perhaps if I reflect on it more it will come to me.
Other than that, the play did have a couple of moments I found amusing, though I'm not sure this was entirely intentional on Becquaert's part. For example, Robespierre mistakes both Ariane and Blandine for Éléonore (and doubtless, if he had found Antonia alone first, as he did with the other two, he would have thought the same of her XD). But that was about the only "light" part of the play, and I might even be the only one who finds it amusing.
All in all I found Le Jugement Secret to be upsetting and depressing, but also thought-provoking. I'm not sure I could claim to like it, per se, but it was interesting...