Now known as the Esquirol Hospital, the Charenton Asylum was founded in 1645, approximately 150 years prior to the Marquis de Sade’s arrival. Throughout its more than 350-year history, it has seen many changes in France, yet its most notorious resident still may be the marquis. Quills is far from the first work to dramatize the events surrounding the notorious writer’s incarceration. Perhaps the most famous work before it was The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, often simply abbreviated as Marat/Sade. The production was groundbreaking in its environmental approach to the play, which placed the audience “inside” Charenton and often in direct contact with the inmates.
In Quills, Doug Wright adopts a very different approach. The other inmates are not seen (and, save for the lunatic at the end of Act I, remain unheard as well). The play also restricts the setting almost exclusively to two specific locations within Charenton: Dr. Royer-Collard’s office and the marquis’s cell. The laundry room is glimpsed only insomuch as we see Madeleine hanging from its rafters, and the room where Coulmier prays over Madeleine’s body exists almost in a kind of dream world. In doing this, Wright makes it clear that his purposes for examining this period of history are very different. In essence, Wright provides the audience with two centers of power. Royer-Collard’s office is a kind of establishment stronghold, wherein orders are handed down to Coulmier and Madeline, among others. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the marquis’s cell represents chaos, depravity, and, quite pointedly, freedom.
Structurally, Wright mostly alternates scenes between those two locations as Royer-Collard makes orders within his office that are then carried out in the marquis’s cell. Ironically, it is the doctor’s office,...
(The entire section is 573 words.)