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The central theme of this play is class conflict. The play takes place in the aftermath of the French revolution.
A little background on the French Revolution may help. In 1789, the ruling family was forcibly removed from Versailles to Paris.
Professor David of Hartwick College explains the purposes and intent of the revolution: "The French Revolution was not only a crucial event considered in the context of Western history, but was also, perhaps the single most crucial influence on British intellectual, philosophical, and political life in the nineteenth century."
Be that as it may, the idealized purposes are not all panning out in reality. The poor are not seeing the fruits of the revolution, the rich seem to be edging back towards the old way of the aristocracy. The play's central theme, then, deals with the seemingly never-ending conflict of classes.
The central theme of Marat/Sade can be interpreted as the varied definition of cruelty. The Marquis de Sade is infamous for his methods of therapy. This is demonstrated by the development of the term sadism, with its inference toward cruel treatment. In the play, the Marquis queries the audience regarding the public denouncement that he has been accorded. He defends himself by stating that his unusual methods are both effective and generally requested by his clients. He feels that he is performing a beneficial service, shown by the improvement of his patients. With Marat the writer of revolution, the spirit to commit acts of violence against the establishment is aroused. Thousands lose their lives in the French Revolution. However, Marat is regaled as a hero, a martyr of the revolution. Why does Charlotte Corday murder Marat? She believes that he is a monster that must be stopped from inciting more killing. The question seems obvious. Which man was more cruel? Which man caused more cruelty and death? What should the public perception be of each man?
Weiss explores the boundaries between sanity and madness: who gets to judge who is mad and who is sane? What is real and what is playacting? Like Sartre1 before him, Weiss engages with notions of people building their own hell on earth, chasing phantoms in the name of political expediency ... or political correctness? Sade is no monster, and to view him as such in Weiss's world is to seriously misunderstand this play. Likewise, this is no Marxist apologetic: the revolution Weiss explores is in people's heads, not on the streets. Look again at Brook's masterful portrayal of Weiss's themes to fully appreciate its complexity, and challenging beauty. Not for the fainthearted, but full of gutsy humour and Rabelaisian joie de vivre!
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