"In a society of criminals, I unearthed the crime in myself in order to explore it …"
First performed in 1965, Peter Weiss’s play depicts an imaginary confrontation between the Marquis de Sade and Jean Paul Marat, spokesman for the French Revolution. More broadly, it explores the conflict between excessive individualism and the idea of political and social revolution.
Weiss could scarcely have envisaged the extremes to which individualism would develop, or how radicalised social, political and religious allegiances would become. But it is not just the tension between individualism and political action that interests him in Marat/Sade. Another central issue is our relationship to violence. Significantly, his Marquis de Sade, namesake of "sadism", struggles more with the actual administration of violence than the ideologist Jean Paul Marat.
The spectrum of types of brutality encompasses not just state terrorism, purges, wars and perverted acts of violence such as torture, but also mob violence. This leads to perhaps the most topical issue that Peter Weiss – who would have turned 100 on 8.11.2016 – explores in his play: Who are we, "the people"? How far can we be trusted to act maturely? To what extent are we susceptible to manipulation or in danger of reverting to barbarism? And in what kind of dilemma between progress and regression does democracy find itself?