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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 the inmates in a mental asylum with various wacky little quirks, ranging from narcolepsy to paranoid schizophrenia. Madness ensues. The nurses and supervisors occasionally must step in to "control" the patients. The bourgeois director of the asylum oversees the performance while accompanied by his wife and daughter. As a supporter of the Napoleonic government in place at the time of the prisoners' production, the asylum director desires for this play that he has organized for the public to see to support his patriotic views. The performers, however, rebel, often speaking lines he had wanted cut from the production.

Meanwhile, the Marquis de Sade and Marat hold numerous debates about their principles and personal philosophies.

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

The 1967 film version, which was made by the Royal Shakespeare Company under the direction of theatre innovator Peter Brook, is excellent. Ian Richardson and Patrick Magee head the cast as Marat and de Sade respectively.

The tropes of the asylum at Charenton:

  • Acting for Two: invoked The ensemble cast portrays the inmates at an insane asylum who are, in turn, playing other characters within a play written by the Marquis de Sade. In the prologue of the play, the Herald introduces both the characters and the patients playing them but blurs the line, somewhat, when introducing the priest Jacques Roux but not the actor playing him. Throughout the play, the actors slip in and out of 'character' (between the person they're playing, and the person that person is playing).
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: The real Coulmier was rather short and described as a hunchback.
  • Aside Glance: The film is filled with these, particularly from the Herald, de Sade, and Coulmier.
  • Aside Comment: Many comments are directed straight at the audience, mostly by the Herald, de Sade, and Marat.
  • Ax-Crazy: Monsieur Dupere is played by one of Charenton's most dangerous sex maniacs. He often breaks character and tries to attack Charlotte Corday.
  • Bedlam House: The insane asylum of Charenton.
  • Blue Blood: Literally referenced during the depiction of the execution of King Louis the XVI. After the King is "guillotined", one of the members of the Greek Chorus pours a bucket of blue paint to represent his blood.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: In ways you can't even imagine. Marat indirectly ends up mentioning the 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.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Again. House full of crazy people.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: The play being performed is about The French Revolution. Rebelling against authority is a common theme that Coulmier repeatedly tries to step in and stamp out.
  • Crapsack World: Twofold, the depiction in the play of France following the Revolution is violent and bloody, and the inmates in the insane asylum acting out the play are often beaten or mistreated.
  • Drum Roll, Please: A drumroll can be heard just before the dramatic execution of the King.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The full title, 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 describes the complete setup of what is to come
  • Executive Meddling: Invoked. Coulmier, the Director of Charenton, often interrupts the actual play to object to its content or force changes and cuts.
  • 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...
    general copulation, copulation, copulation, COPULATION!!
  • 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.
  • Greek Chorus: The Herald and the vocalists, Cucurucu, Polpoch, Kokol, and Rossignol, who comment on the debates between Sade and Marat and the actions of the principal characters with rhyming dialogue and intermittent song interludes.
  • 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 are real figures from history. Bonus for the fact that de Sade is portraying himself in the play-within-the-play.
  • 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 full title is 26 words long.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: There are some very catchy songs with scary lyrics.
  • Madness Mantra: An early point in the musical where the inmates clamor for "Freedom" turns the call into a repeated mantra, which forces Coulmier to intervene and remind the Marquis De Sade to keep his production under control.
  • Mad Oracle: The priest Jacques Roux.
  • Minimalism: The play contains elements of this. For instance, The Herald doubles as the door to Marat's living quarters and the guillotine is conveyed through sounds, instead of being a featured prop. However, the theatrical production's sets and direction are regarded as being highly intense and sensuous more than minimalist.
  • Monster Clown: The four-person chorus, in the film, at least, dons ugly clown makeup.
  • 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.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Coulmier interrupts the performance on occasion to defend the state and government established in the fifteen years following Marat's death.
  • Only Sane Man: Marat. Maybe.
    Jacques Roux: [Speaking about Marat] 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.
  • Out-of-Character Moment:
    • The inmates occasionally break character. Notably, the character Monsieur Dupere is supposed to have a platonic relationship with Charlotte Corday, but the inmate portraying this character is a dangerous "sex maniac" who regularly attempts to attack his fellow actress.
    • 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.
  • Prisoner Performance: Inspired by the Marquis de Sade's Real Life plays that he would put on in the Asylum of Charenton with his fellow inmates as actors, the work is largely a play-within-a-play staged in the asylum's bathhouse where the inmates dramatize the story of the murder of Jean-Paul Marat by Charlotte Corday and frame a debate between Marat and de Sade. As the principal actors are all suffering from mental disorders ranging from narcolepsy to paranoid schizophrenia, and, moreover, as the subject matter of the play is often controversial with the Napoleonic government, there are several disruptions throughout the performance and other obstacles to overcome. Coulmier, the head of the asylum, often has to step in and act as a censor, as he objects to some of the material of the play, framed around the end of The French Revolution.
  • Public Execution: The asylum inmates act out the public execution of the aristocrats by the guillotine during The French Revolution, followed by the execution of the King. Afterwards, the Marquis de Sade, during one of his monologues, compares the "gentleness" of the guillotine to the far more brutal public execution of Robert-François Damiens who, at a much earlier time, had attempted to assassinate Louis XV. He relates that the execution "lasted four hours while the crowd goggled," as Damiens was brutally tortured to death until he was nothing more than "a bloody torso with a nodding head."
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Marat and de Sade trade these in their arguments about the other.
  • 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 lackey. 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.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: The Herald speaks solely through rhyme throughout the play-within-a-play being performed by the Charenton inmates. Even when the play is frequently interrupted by Coulmier, the asylum's overseer, the Herald is able to issue responses in rhyming verse without ever breaking character.
  • 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: More accurately, it's a theatrical play about insane asylum inmates performing a play.
  • Shown Their Work: Historically the 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.
    de Sade: 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: de Sade gets "whipped" by Charlotte Corday.
  • Word of God: Invoked, seeing as the author is literally on board.
  • Writer on Board: de Sade both wrote the play being performed by the inmates and is a character within the play, as well.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: This is discussed in depth, in regards to The French Revolution.


Video Example(s):


We Want Our Freedom

The inmates of Charenton clamor for freedom (in two senses of the word) while acting out their play under the direction of the Marquis de Sade.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / PrisonerPerformance

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