What is the central theme of the play Marat/Sade?
In relation to the central theme of class conflict, Weiss appears to be suggesting that the French Revolution, though a step in the right direction towards enduring social and political change, didn't go far enough. All of the three competing factions at the asylum—represented by Marat, Sade, and Coulmier—want to remain firmly in control. That being the case, they're not prepared to let the inmates take over. The old ruling classes may have gone, but they've simply been replaced by new authority figures, who are every bit as corrupted by power as the aristocrats they replaced.
Marat is praised by the inmates for his radicalism, but they don't believe he's gone far enough. He too has been corrupted by power to the extent that he remains wedded to a hierarchical social system in which the interests of the poor and dispossessed remain largely unaddressed. This symbolizes the overall evaluation of the French Revolution by successive generations of Marxists for whom the great promise of this monumental historical event was never adequately fulfilled.
The central theme of this play is class conflict. The play takes place in the aftermath of the French revolution.
A little background on the French Revolution may help. In 1789, the ruling family was forcibly removed from Versailles to Paris.
Professor David of Hartwick College explains the purposes and intent of the revolution: "The French Revolution was not only a crucial event considered in the context of Western history, but was also, perhaps the single most crucial influence on British intellectual, philosophical, and political life in the nineteenth century."
Be that as it may, the idealized purposes are not all panning out in reality. The poor are not seeing the fruits of the revolution, the rich seem to be edging back towards the old way of the aristocracy. The play's central theme, then, deals with the seemingly never-ending conflict of classes.
Weiss explores the boundaries between sanity and madness: who gets to judge who is mad and who is sane? What is real and what is playacting? Like Sartre1 before him, Weiss engages with notions of people building their own hell on earth, chasing phantoms in the name of political expediency ... or political correctness? Sade is no monster, and to view him as such in Weiss's world is to seriously misunderstand this play. Likewise, this is no Marxist apologetic: the revolution Weiss explores is in people's heads, not on the streets. Look again at Brook's masterful portrayal of Weiss's themes to fully appreciate its complexity, and challenging beauty. Not for the fainthearted, but full of gutsy humour and Rabelaisian joie de vivre!