Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Marquis de Sade
Marquis de Sade (mahr-KEE deh sahd), a French writer and libertine. While Sade, at the age of sixty-eight, is confined at Charenton asylum for his nontraditional views on sex and violence, he stages a play about Marat’s death, which took place on the same date fifteen years earlier. He both directs the actors—the asylum’s inmates, who are either mentally disturbed or confined for political reasons—and participates in the action. In his conversations with Marat, Sade expresses a certain amount of sympathy for the goals of the French Revolution, but he also shows himself as Marat’s philosophical opponent by professing an extreme form of individualism and strong faith in the power of subjective imagination.
Jean-Paul Marat (zhah[n]-pohl mah-RA), a French physician and revolutionary leader. He is forty-nine years of age and spends many hours sitting in the bathtub to cool his skin, which is afflicted by an illness. Like the historical figure he represents, the actor playing Marat at Charenton suffers from paranoia and undergoes hydrotherapy. Although he is a strong advocate of the revolution, Marat has a vision of a just society directed toward the future. He is, nevertheless, perceived as the revolution’s central catalyst in the public eye because of his inflammatory speeches and articles, and he is killed by Corday in...
(The entire section is 784 words.)
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Marat is a physician and journalist who played a significant role in the French Revolution. As a character in Sade's inner play—which takes place several years after the war—he is a confused man tortured by his memories and the realization that the revolution did not accomplish what he intended. He is plagued by a skin disease and can only find relief by soaking in a bath, which is where he spends his time on stage.
Marat struggles to organize his thoughts, speaking of his ideals for social reform. It is these ideas he defends as he debates with Sade. "I am the Revolution," he claims at one point. He criticizes the ruling class, those who survived the revolution and live to again profit from it, and the church, which has contributed to oppression by convincing the poor that they are blessed. "We invented the Revolution but we don't know how to run it," he says. Sade scolds Marat for hiding behind his words and failing to take action; Marat explains that he never believed the pen alone could destroy institutions. He contends that social injustice demands action and that human beings are called to challenge the status quo and change it.
Marat lacks Sade's eloquence, but he seems to truly believe the ideals of which he speaks. When he writes he does so with action in mind, he says, although he is clearly doing nothing more than sitting in his bathtub. By the play's end he is exhausted and filled with doubt about his words and the revolution...
(The entire section is 281 words.)
Sade is the author of the inner play. Interred in the Charenton Asylum, he writes plays for the patients to perform. Sixty-eight-years-old, he is fat and noticeably eccentric. He interacts at times with the characters within the play he is directing. He regularly confronts his lead character, Marat, eloquently debating the French Revolution. He exhibits a fascination with death, especially the painful, tortured variety. He admits to a confusion about his role in his ongoing conversation with Marat, saying, "I do not know if I am hangman or victim."
Sade doesn't believe in idealists, only in himself. He describes his imprisonment in the Bastille in which he confronted the criminal within himself, a criminal that committed desecrations and tortures, acts for which he was whipped. Thirteen years of imprisonment have taught him the depths of his own depravity and allowed him to focus his attention on the body—particularly the concept of sadomasochistic sex. Sade's efforts are heroically honest, wrote Penelope Gilliatt in Vogue, "but he is neither an admirable nor an enviable man, being without charity and mad."
(The entire section is 179 words.)
Corday exists in a dream and must at times be ushered to her appointed times and places. She speaks in a sing-song voice, never fully dimensional, but resolute even in her dream-like state. It is not explained whether her behavior is historical or merely the personality traits of the mental patient playing her in Sade's inner play. Like other characters in the play within the play, Corday's ambiguous nature inspires disturbing feelings in the audience.
Corday is going to murder Marat. She comes to Paris, buys the knife, and confers with Duperret, who, at the last minute, tries to dissuade her from committing the murder. She is determined, however, to accomplish this mission. She also interacts with Sade, and in what many consider a startling scene in Brook's production, lashes Sade at his request—not with a whip but with her hair.
Corday approaches the thought of killing Marat with fascination. The manner in which she describes how she will kill him is spiked with eroticism. She views Marat's murder as an act that will free humankind. She once found Marat's ideas appealing, but she is disappointed by the revolution's outcome. She sees his death as the first step in a new revolution. Near the end, Corday envisions her own death at the guillotine.
Coulmier is the director of the mental asylum, quite smug about the advanced treatment employed by the Charenton asylum; he boasts of...
(The entire section is 765 words.)