Student Question

How do theatrical elements in Marat/Sade illustrate the play's philosophical and political issues?

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I would say that the setting of the drama is an area where a theatrical element is critical to the exploration of philosophical and political issues  The insane asylum where there are specific factions with competing point of view.  Marat, Sade, and Coulmier remain in the asylum and express different points of view. The other patients in the asylum listen to what is being spoken and articulate their own viewpoints about what is being discussed.  They seek to create change, possessing power even in the most controlling of circumstances.  In Weiss' world, the madhouse captures the essence of the modern setting, and while institutionalized in it, human beings are able to talk and debate, engaging in transformative discourse to help facilitate change in the world. The setting helps to "farm" and harvest some of the philosophical and political issues in the drama.

The theatrical element of dialogue is also a technique used to ensure that there is an exploration of philosophical and political issues in the drama.  Marat speaks lines that pivot toward a vision of the world where justice is evident and collective action can yield good.  His characterization is one where he suffers for his views, reflecting that when change is possible when individuals sacrifice for beliefs that are more encompassing than their own singular condition.  Through characterization and dialogue, Weiss is able to posit a paradigm that has deliberate implications regarding the world and human beings' place in it.  This paradigm is contrasted with the words and development of Marquis de Sade.  His own faded vision of human action along with his embrace of intense individualism forms another world view that Weiss puts forth.  The audience is not merely watching characters speak.  Rather, they are seeing discourse that reflects philosophical and political ideology.  The characterizations and critical dialogue that is offered compels individuals to think and take a side, sometimes even combining aspects of both characters, who resemble more of "thinkers" than mere dramatic characters.  Coulmier representing the Status Quo and the conditions of existing power represents another aspect to this philosophical and political harvesting of ideas.  

Directorial discretion is another theatrical element to examine when farming the political and philosophical issues of the drama.  Weiss supports the ideas of collectivity and "praxis" of Marat.  Yet, Marat is killed and Sade has a more controlling point of view in terms of receiving the more potent lines, as well the drama slipping in and out of real life reflect how there is little in way of absolutist certainty here.  Everything is subject to change.  Everything is in flux.  Everything is being transformed.  These are political and philosophical realities that are illuminated through distinct theatrical elements that Weiss chooses in the display of his drama.

Weiss constructed his drama with the direct intention of illuminating philosophical and political issues.  He sees his drama as essential to the process of discourse:  “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.”  There is an overwhelming need to express a message in the drama.  It is here where the use of theatrical elements to farm and harvest the exploration of philosophical and political ideas becomes most evident.

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