(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The action occurs between March 24 and April 5, 1794, during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. Georges Danton, who raised armies that had saved the Republic, becomes indifferent to politics, yet he retains sufficient popularity to pose a threat to the extremist Revolutionary leader Robespierre, who gains and keeps power by executing leaders of his opposition.

Danton, several friends, and their ladies exchange witticisms as they play cards through most of a night. At the same time, Camille Desmoulins tries to bring Danton back into the political arena to lead the attack against Robespierre’s totalitarian faction. Meanwhile Robespierre invites citizens to follow him to the Jacobin Club, where he dominates the Committee of Public Safety. At the club, Robespierre proclaims in a long tirade that he is an incorruptible leader and that his government was forced to proceed despotically against the villainy of Royalists, foreigners, and other enemies. To punish such oppressors of humankind is mercy, he insists; to forgive them would be stupid and even barbaric. He maintains that the French Republic needs to deploy weapons of terror to save its ideals, and he asks his listeners to trust his policies.

Instead of opposing Robespierre, Danton prefers to flirt with the prostitute Marion, who rhapsodizes about the joys of the body in a monologue in which she compares herself to a sea that swallows all men. Danton’s moderate friends, who heard...

(The entire section is 598 words.)