Two important figures from 18th-century France, Jean Paul Marat and the Marquis de Sade, “meet” on stage in Peter Weiss’s play, whose full title is “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”, in a bizarre “play within a play”.
Peter Weiss drew on historical events to create a multifaceted play that works on multiple levels at once, employing the tools of political theatre in his own unique and imaginative way. In the work, Marat’s murder is directed by de Sade and presented in the Charenton bathhouse by inmates of the asylum. The three characters—de Sade, Marat and Corday—are fighting for freedom, a concept that means something different to each of them. Ultimately, how can the liberation of the people be achieved? Through revolution and a never-ending cycle of executions to eradicate those that exploit it? Through murdering the supposed liberators? Through heroic self-sacrifice or the ceaseless pursuit of personal pleasures? With the murder for a backdrop, the characters’ conflicting views generate an intense philosophical dialogue on stage, whose echoes are still audible today; the three protagonists confront us with the key issues on which we are forever being asked to take a stance: where the limits of freedom should lie, and how respect for the individual and the collective should interrelate.