Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
The confrontation and debate between Sade and Marat lies at the heart of the play’s nature as a drama of ideas. At issue is the value of social violence, specifically the utility or futility of the French Revolution.
Marat is passionately committed to collective action for social reform, while Sade, once prorevolutionary, has skeptically withdrawn into anarchic individualism. A romantic activist and proto-Marxist, Marat asserts man-made absolutes of value. Sade is a cold voluptuary who finds the root of social evil not in any collective community or system but in man himself; his nihilistic solipsism finally puts him beyond both indignation and despair, into the realm of detached cynicism. Together, this pair incarnates a number of crucial contrasts reaching beyond their historic functions: action versus imagination, progress versus stasis, communism versus anarchism, the commissar versus the yogi, Marx-Bakunin-Lenin versus Freud-Jung-Klein.
In a 1966 article in The New York Times Magazine, Weiss explicitly proclaimed his hard-left, communist-oriented ideology and his consequent dramatic didacticism: “Even if I had the most brilliant theatrical idea, I would not turn it into a play . . . if I could not also make it express a message.” He declared his preference for East German stagings of Marat/Sade, in which Marat was shown the hero and Sade downplayed “as representing the doomed Western way of life.” In Western...
(The entire section is 477 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Marat/Sade Themes. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
In this retelling of the French Revolution's aftermath, Weiss raises questions about the struggle between classes, between the aristocracy or privileged class, and the poor, lower class. The picture that he paints is a grim one. The much-needed, much-touted Revolution in France has come. Heads have rolled—literally—and changes in France's government have been introduced. But the question is raised, have things really changed or have the new ruling class adopted the ways of the old aristocracy? The play notes the actions of the ruling class and how the poor are treated. The situation has slightly improved but not enough to merit the loss of life in the revolution.
The church is scrutinized for aiding the ruling class by encouraging those in poverty to turn to God and see merit in suffering. Churches should be made into schools, the play suggests, at least they might then make some positive contribution to society. The lives of the new ruling class are examined, pointing out a basic pattern. Once in power, those who may have started out with good intentions become corrupt. Power corrupts, greed corrupts. The wealth resides with the minority who control society; the pattern is repeated with the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer.
These messages are couched in the surreal setting of an insane asylum with three major factions (represented by Marat, Sade, and Coulmier) debating the reality of the times and...
(The entire section is 957 words.)