Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
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...
(The entire section is 851 words.)
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Act I Summary
Marat/Sade is set in the bath hall of an insane asylum at Charenton; the time is some years after the French Revolution. The play opens with the Marquis de Sade undertaking some last minute preparations for a play he has written with the parts to be played by inmates of the asylum. Invited to watch this spectacle are members of the French aristocracy, specifically Coulmier, the director of the clinic, and his family. Sade gives a signal and Coulmier and his family enter as the actors, a scraggly lot of patients from the asylum, wait tensely.
Coulmier introduces this play within a play by describing the modern advanced treatment at Charenton, which includes therapy through education and art. The Herald points out the main characters—Sade who is seated in his dais, Jean-Paul Marat who is placed in his bath, and Charlotte Corday. There is also Duperret, who buzzes around Corday trying to get his hands on her, and the radical priest Jacques Roux. The Herald explains each of the characters as well as the story line. Corday is coming to Paris to murder Marat in his bath.
At this point the cast pauses to offer an homage to Marat and engage in a slight discussion of his role. This sequence ends with a refrain that will be repeated throughout the play:
Marat, we're poor and the poor stay poor/Marat don't make us wait any more/We want our rights and we don't care how/We want our revolution NOW.
(The entire section is 754 words.)
Act II Summary
The second act opens with an imagined scene in the National Assembly where Marat questions the actions of those in power after the revolution, saying they are as bad as before the revolution. His words are received with mixed emotions. Some cheer him on while others question his facts and intentions, including Duperret. Coulmier can take it no longer and jumps up, demanding Sade cut these parts from the play. Roux interrupts and further incites the patients.
Marat, exhausted, is in his bath again, tended to by Simonne. He is once again attempting to commit his thoughts to paper. Sade, to the side, questions the revolutionary's writing, claiming that nothing can be achieved by scribbling. Marat defends himself, saying that he always wrote with action in mind and that it wasn't a replacement for action, only a preparation. But Sade doesn't let up and asks him to look at the sorry state of the revolution. Marat is confused and exhausted.
Corday prepares herself for her final visit to Marat's bath. She takes her dagger in hand, while Duperret suggests she throw it away and give up on this goal. He begs her to go away with him. She refuses and resolutely goes to Marat's door. Sade interjects his idea about sensuality at this point and stirs up the patients to sing "what's the point of a revolution without general copulation." Corday knocks at Marat's door and is invited to enter.
The Herald engages in a brief recitation of history,...
(The entire section is 315 words.)