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is passionately committed to collective action for social reform, while Sade, once prorevolutionary, has skeptically withdrawn into anarchic individualism.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...
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