This two-act play is divided into thirty-three scenes, with the first few setting the stage for the play and the play-within-the-play. At the Charenton clinic, Sade signs to the Herald for the play to begin. Coulmier explains to the audience, seated on the side and consisting of himself, his wife, and his daughter, that Sade has written this historical play portraying the assassination of Marat by Charlotte Corday on July 13, 1793. The performance has two purposes: entertainment for the visitors and therapy for the inmates. The performance is July 13, 1808, exactly fifteen years after the assassination. The Herald then introduces those inmates playing major roles, apologizing for their lack of skill. Sade plays himself. Marat is played by a paranoiac. The Marat, in the play, as in life, has a skin disease that necessitates his remaining constantly in a warm bath. Charlotte Corday is played by a woman suffering from sleeping sickness and melancholia.
The play-within-the-play begins with the “Homage to Marat” sung by four balladeers: Kokol, Polpoch, Cucurucu, and Rossignol, who represent the attitudes and grievances of the masses. For them, Marat is the only revolutionary, and they want to be assured that he will never give up their fight. When Roux elevates their cries for bread and freedom, Coulmier demands that Sade keep the performers to the approved script so as not to confuse and unsettle the patients.
Next, Charlotte Corday is introduced as both a character in the play and a historical personage. Corday believes Marat has become the evil genius of France and gains an audience with him through deceit, promising to betray the Girondists of her hometown, Caen. Marat is preparing his “fourteenth of July call/ to the people of France.” On the street, Corday has witnessed the crowd performing a dance of death as they march to the guillotine. A pantomime, narrated by Marat, portrays a history of past executions.
Sade and Marat discuss the meaning of life and death. Sade compares death to the indifference he observes in nature. For him, life...
(The entire section is 851 words.)