From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats dargestellt durch die Schauspielgruppe des Hospizes zu Charenton unter Anleitung des Herrn de Sade, translated from the original German as 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, published in 1963, is a play by Peter Weiss, directed both on stage and screen by Peter Brook. The title is often shortened to Marat/Sade. The play opened on Broadway on December 27, 1965 and closed on April 30, 1966 after 145 performances.
Incorporating dramatic elements characteristic of both Artaud and Brecht (a combination some find paradoxical) it is a bloody and unrelenting depiction of human struggle and suffering which asks whether true revolution comes first from changing society or changing one's self.
The 1967 film version, the opening titles use the long version of the plays name as shown above but, like the play it is shortened to Marat/Sade on the DVD cover. It stars Ian Richardson as Marat and Patrick Magee as Sade, and features Glenda Jackson in one of her earliest significant film roles, as a narcoleptic inmate portraying Charlotte Corday.
Set in the historical Charenton Asylum, now d’Hôpital Esquirol, Marat/Sade is almost entirely a "play within a play". The main story takes place on July 13, 1808, after the French Revolution; the play directed by de Sade within the story takes place during the Revolution, in the middle of 1793, culminating in the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat (which took place on July 13, 1793), then quickly brings the audience up to date (1808). The actors are the inmates of the asylum, and the nurses and supervisors occasionally step in to restore order. The bourgeois director of the hospital, Coulmier, supervises the performance, accompanied by his wife and daughter. He is a supporter of the post-revolutionary government led by Napoleon, in place at the time of the production, and believes the play he has organised to be an endorsement of his patriotic views. His patients, however, have other ideas, and they make a habit of speaking lines he had attempted to suppress, or deviating entirely into personal opinion. Suffice it to say that they, as people who came out of the revolution no better than they went in, are not entirely pleased with the course of events as they fell.
The infamous Marquis de Sade, the man after whom sadism is named, did indeed direct performances in Charenton with other inmates there, encouraged by Coulmier. De Sade is a main character in the play, conducting many philosophical dialogues with Marat and observing the proceedings with sardonic amusement. He remains detached and cares little for practical politics and the inmates' talk of right and justice; he simply stands by as an observer and an advocate of his own nihilistic and individualist beliefs. One of the most powerful scenes of the play depicts him being whipped on his own instructions, and such bold scenes are not alone, nor confined to the predilections of the Marquis himself.