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Theatre / Marat/Sade

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"Our play's chief aim has been to take to bits
Great propositions and their opposites,
See how they work, and let them fight it out,
To point some light on our eternal doubt.
Marat and I both advocated force
But in debate each took a different course.
Both wanted changes, but his views and mine
On using power never could combine.
On the one side, he who thinks our lives
Can be improved by axes and knives,
Or he who, submerged in the imagination,
Seeking a personal annihilation."

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 shortened to Marat/Sade, for simplicity's sake) is a 1963 play by Peter Weiss which tells the story of, well...the title sort of covers that.

A brilliant play-within-a-play, the principal characters of the Tragedy are played by inmates with various wacky little quirks, ranging from narcolepsy to paranoid schizophrenia. Hilarity Ensues.

Oh, did we mention that this is also a musical?

The film-version, which was made by the Royal Shakespeare Company, is excellent. It can be watched (for the moment) on YouTube.

There is also the 1967 film adaptation, directed by Adrian Mitchell.


The tropes of the asylum at Charenton:

  • Acting for Two: invoked Sort of. In the prologue, the Herald introduces both the characters and the patients playing them, but blurs the line somewhat—for example, introducing Jacques Roux but not the actor playing him. And throughout the play, the actors slip in and out of 'character' (between the person they're playing, and the person that person is playing).
  • Aside Glance
  • Aside Comment: Lots of this is done, mostly by the Herald, de Sade, and Marat.
  • Ax-Crazy: A few of these.
  • Bedlam House: Charenton.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: In ways you can't even imagine. Marat indirectly ends up mentioning to Atom Bomb.
  • Breaking Speech: de Sade has a few of these. Especially his discussion with Marat on the nature of Life and Death, and the nature of Nature.
  • Chewing the Scenery: The main cast are all inmates in an asylum. It goes with the job description.
  • Advertisement:
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Again. House full of crazy people.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: The film is about The French Revolution. Come on.
  • Crapsack World: Oh, so very much.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The title.
  • Executive Meddling: invoked One of the few times that this occurs during the actual play.
  • Fan Disservice: Marat's skin-lesions, depending on how graphic the production makes these.
  • Fourth Wall Psych: Plenty of it.
  • Free-Love Future:
    What's the point of a re-vo-lution...
    without general...
  • The French Revolution: The play-within-the-play deals with the aftermath of this.
  • Go Among Mad People: It says something about the background-level of Crazy, when the Marquis de Sade is doing this.
  • Heroic BSoD: Charlotte has one of these. Well, if you see her as the hero. (Also, she's mentally deranged to begin with, so it's not a big jump.)
  • Historical Domain Character: All the named characters. Bonus for the fact that de Sade himself is doing this, within the play.
  • In and Out of Character: Most of the inmates.
  • Interactive Narrator: Both the Herald (in the more usual sense) and de Sade.
  • Large Ham: A few, but the Herald gets to really play it up.
  • Lawful Stupid: Coulmier. de Sade is clearly playing with him—as are most of the other inmates. They may be crazy, but they're not stupid.
  • Long Title: The longest.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: There are some very catchy songs with scary lyrics.
  • Madness Mantra: "Freedom!", quite literally.
  • Mad Oracle: Jacques Roux.
  • Minimalism: The play contains elements of this. Though the theatrical production's sets and direction are regarded as being highly intense and sensuous more than minimalist.
  • Monster Clown: The Chorus, in the film at least, are four of these.
  • Mood Whiplash: The film has some really shocking moments of these, especially with Charlotte.
  • The Musical: Some of the songs were so popular that they were recorded by artists in the 60s.
  • Network Executive: Coulmier.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Coulmier.
  • Only Sane Man: Marat. Maybe.
    Woe to the man who is different, who tries to break down all the barriers. Woe to the man who tries to stretch the imagination of Man. He shall be mocked. He shall be scourged by the blinkered guardians of morality. You wanted enlightenment and warmth and so you studied light and heat. You wondered how forces can be controlled so you studied electricity. You wanted to know what man is for so you asked yourself, "What is this soul this dump for hollow ideals and mangled morals?" You decided that the soul is in the brain, and that it can learn to think—For to you the soul is a practical thing a tool for ruling and mastering life. And you came one day to the Revolution because you saw the most important vision: That our circumstances must be changed fundamentally, and without these changes everything we try to do must fail.
    Jacques Roux, speaking about Marat
  • Out-of-Character Moment: Several.
    • One of the most shocking is during the "Homage to Marat", when they are talking about the French peasants wanting their freedom, and one of the inmates starts weeping and saying "Let us out! We want our freedom!", prompting the rest of them to join in an actual cry for freedom. It's heartrending, because it's so unexpected and so earnest.
  • The Pen Is Mightier: Marat wants to prove this. He doesn't.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Marat and de Sade trade these.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Both Averted and played straight. Coulmier obviously is acting as the censor for the play, and in addition to being a Napoleonic lanky. Generally however, he is too dim to notice the amount of subversive messages both Marat and Sade can slip into their speeches. Throughout the course of the play the Herald must add various speeches praising how the masses must listen to the wise leader's advice so they won't become a mob. However, the end of the play shows that for all of his faults, he does have a somewhat legitimate point.
  • Refuge in Audacity: de Sade does this a few times, but only to shut Coulmier up.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The whole play, but especially the end.
  • Room Full of Crazy: In the most literal sense.
  • Rousing Speech: Marat makes a few of these
  • Rule of Three: Charlotte comes to Marat's door three times. Lampshaded several times.
  • Sanity Slippage: Imagine that Sanity is wearing just his socks, and he's stuck out in the middle of a frozen lake which is covered with a layer of oil. That kind of slippage.
  • Screwed by the Network: Invoked by the Herald, who mentions that Coulmier has edited certain 'objectionable' parts of the play. And he continues to protest throughout the play.
  • Show Within a Show
  • Shown Their Work: Historically Marquis de Sade (or Citizen Sade as he was called then) gave the eulogy for Marat's funeral (He compared Marat to Jesus) and apparently he and Marat interacted a couple of times. Likewise, Sade was imprisoned in Charenton on one of Napoleon's whims and he did stage plays in the asylum as part of Coulmier's therapy.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Whatever you might think of de Sade's writings, Weiss paints a very sympathetic (or at least more philosophical) picture of the man.
    • "If I am extreme I am not extreme in the way you are. Against Nature's silence I use action—in the vast indifference, I invent a meaning. I don't watch unmoved; I intervene."
  • Too Kinky to Torture: He is literally the Trope Namer for this. Of course.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Averted. There are lots of breakdowns, but there aren't any clear heroes or villains.
  • Word of God: invoked Played with, seeing as the author is literally on board.
  • Writer on Board: de Sade is one, literally.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: This is discussed in depth, in regards to The French Revolution.