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, usually shortened to Marat/Sade, is a 1963 play by Peter Weiss.
Incorporating dramatic elements characteristic of both Artaud and Brecht, it is a bloody and unrelenting depiction of class struggle and human suffering which asks whether true revolution comes from changing society or changing oneself.
Set in the historical Charenton Asylum, 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 Marquis 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 – lunatics, and the nurses and supervisors occasionally step in to restore order.
Historically, the Marquis de Sade, the man after whom sadism is named, did indeed direct performances in Charenton with other inmates there, encouraged by Coulmier, the ‘director’ of the hospital. De Sade is a main character in the play, conducting many philosophical dialogues with Marat and observing the proceedings with sardonic amusement. One of the most powerful scenes of the play depicts him being whipped by a girl’s hair on his own instructions.
In 1964, the play was translated by Geoffrey Skelton with lyric adaptation by Adrian Mitchell and staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Peter Brook directed a cast that included Ian Richardson as the herald, Clive Revill as Marat, Patrick Magee as de Sade, and Glenda Jackson as Charlotte Corday.
The 1967 film adaptation featured many of the original players, and utilized the long version of the play’s name in its opening credits, although this was frequently shortened to Marat/Sade in publicity materials. The screenplay was written by Adrian Mitchell. Brook directed a cast that included Richardson, Magee, Jackson, Clifford Rose, and Freddie Jones.
It is a great reference for us as it shows fine actors from the Royal Shakespeare Company playing very convincing “lunatics”. When you watch it, go to full screen straight away otherwise you’ll lose the front titles.