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Last Updated on September 6, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 398

The breath of an aristocrat is the death rattle of freedom.

Thus speaks Danton in act 1 of Danton's Death. At this stage in the play, he's an enthusiastic revolutionary, vying with Robespierre—the man who will eventually destroy him—to become the most implacable foe of the ancien régime and all it represents.

Danton helped to establish the feared Revolutionary Tribunal—which sent countless enemies of the Revolution, both real and imagined, to their deaths. And at this early stage in the action, he continues to display his fanatical commitment to the Terror, maintaining that unless every last French aristocrat is wiped out, freedom as he defines it will not prevail.

Revolution is like the daughters of Pelias: it cuts humanity to pieces in order to rejuvenate it.

Danton is too intelligent to be unaware of the numerous downsides of the French Revolution. In the above quotation from act 2, he freely acknowledges that if it is to rejuvenate humanity, revolution must first cut it to pieces before putting those pieces back together again. In other words, Danton embraces the notion that the French Revolution must destroy before it can create, and at this point in the drama, he has no moral qualms about engaging in the wholesale destruction of society as a prelude to a new revolutionary order.

Throughout Danton's Death, Büchner presents Danton as a deeply flawed but ultimately sympathetic character. His earthy sense of humor and love of wine, women, and song marks him out in contrast to bloodless fanatics like Robespierre and Saint-Just. At the same time, Danton overestimates his place in the historical firmament. His monumental ego is such that he truly believes that he will go down in history as one of the greatest Frenchmen.

Now you know Danton: in a few hours he will fall asleep in the arms of glory.

In the above lines from act 3, delivered at the end of his trial before the Revolutionary Tribunal, Danton expresses the confidence and the assurance that his name will live in glory for evermore. As one of the men who established the Tribunal, Danton knows full well that he has no chance of being acquitted. He uses his final speech, then, as an opportunity to ensure that his name and reputation will live on long after the stroke of the guillotine has sent him from this world into the next.

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