Robert Cohen
excerpt from: Robert Cohen, Understanding Peter Weiss

… In early 1964 Weiss was asked to head the newly founded film academy of West Berlin. He seriously considered the appealing offer, but it evidently came ten years too late, and Weiss declined.

During these months there were a growing number of visits to East Berlin, the capital of the German Democratic Republic. It was a difficult time. With the building of the wall in August 1961 the inhuman ideology of the cold war had assumed material reality for the inhabitants of that divided city. There was a split in the world from which the Swedish visitor could not be immune. In the GDR he was interested more in the situation of the arts than in the socialist organization of production. He noted that there were shortcomings "intimidation" of artists and "narrow mindedness of cultural bureaucrats" which he contrasted with the free development of the arts in the Soviet Union after the October Revolution (N I/165 66). Weiss was to publish his criticism of communist cultural bureaucrats in 1965 in his essay "10 Arbeitspunkte eines Künstlers in der geteilten Welt" (An Artist's Ten Working Points in a Divided World). In the notebooks one can also find a critique of East German political elites and hierarchies that, Weiss observed, were unpopular with the people (N 1/220). He was to continue his criticism of the situation of the arts in the GDR and of the Stalinist deformations of socialism right up to his death. But, as a result of his friendship with theater people, writer colleagues, and literary scholars, Weiss also gained greater understanding of the development of the GDR and the historical causes of Stalinist deformations. In his unwavering solidarity with liberation movements of the Third World and his support for a socialist change of the first, Weiss would always consider the GDR and other noncapitalist countries his most important allies.

Among the visitors attending the Marat/Sade rehearsals in the Schiller Theater was Peter Brook, the British director who wished to stage the work in London. This interest was to have major consequences for Marat/Sade, especially for the reception of the play in English speaking countries, as will be shown later. Weiss noted that Brook was "delighted" with the costume designs created by Gunilla Palmstierna Weiss, Weiss's collaborator, long time companion, and, since January 1964, his wife. Palmstierna Weiss at that time was intensely involved with designing the costumes for Marat/Sade and had even gone to Paris for research. Her work was to contribute significantly to the international success of the play, and, after the premiere in Berlin, she also collaborated an the stage and costume design for Peter Brook's London production and its filming.

In March 1964, in the middle of rehearsals for the new play, Weiss traveled to Frankfurt to attend the so called Auschwitz trial. Auschwitz would become the topic of his next play. But before he could start work on this new project the premiere of the Marat play took place in West Berlin in April 1964. Its title alone was to assure its becoming a theater sensation: Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats dargestellt durch die Schauspielgruppe des Hospizes zu Charenton unter Anleitung des Herrn de Sade (The Persecution and Assassination of Jean Paul Marat as Performed by the lnmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade).

The title sums up the content of the work, even though somewhat imprecisely, for the play deals only marginally and discursively with Marat's persecution. What is portrayed is the murder of Marat. The outcome of the work is thus prefigured in its title, as was the case with Büchner's great drama about the French Revolution, Danton's Death. The unusually long title also provides initial information about the performers (inmates of an asylum), director (Marquis de Sade), time (during Sade's stay in Charenton), and place of performance (the asylum of Charenton); but this abundance of information turns out to be confusing. For the play is, of course, not performed by the inmates of an insane asylum but by actors in a contemporary theater under the guidance of a director hired for the job. The author is not the Marquis de Sade but Peter Weiss. The playful title of the work reveals a glimpse of its structure, a complex weaving of time, place, and plot, of actors, stage, and historical figures, and of reality and fiction.

The historical facts: Jean Paul Marat was a physician and naturalist. During the early stages of the French Revolution he became a member of the National Assembly and a radical publicist who, in his newspaper L'Ami du Peuple (Friend of the People), championed radicalization of the revolution. He was murdered in his bathtub an 13 July 1793. (During the revolutionary turmoil he at times had had to hide in the sewers of Paris, which led to a skin disease whose itching he relieved by spending hours in a bathtub.) With the execution of Louis XVI several months earlier, on 21 January 1793, the revolution had entered its most radical stage. The war of revolutionary France against the monarchist powers that surrounded it was going poorly. To keep the army battle ready the Convention (the National Assembly) increased the number of military conscripts. This led to peasant uprisings in several parts of France, followed by rising prices and a bread shortage in the cities, especially Paris.

The enragés (the angry or the possessed), the most politically aware among the impoverished masses (the sansculottes) one of whose leaders was the priest Jacques Roux (1752-94) caused riots in late February. The republic was threatened from within and without. The Convention became radicalized. The liberal upper Bourgeoisie represented by the Girondistes, who until then had dominated the National Assembly, was crowded out by the Montagnards, the revolutionary wing of the bourgeoisie and Petit Bourgeoisie. Girondiste ministers were replaced by Montagnards. Three representatives of the Montagnards moved to the center of Power: Robespierre, Danton, and the most radical, Jean Paul Marat. Unlike Robespierre and Danton, however, Marat remained on the side of the lower classes, even when the uprisings broke out anew in May 1793. The uprisings ended with the defeat and arrest of the Girondistes, and the seizure of Power by the Montagnards.

This ushered in "the third and most advanced phase of the bourgeois democratic revolution." (12) Robespierre was now intent on reconciliation with the Bourgeoisie. In contrast, Marat urged radicalization of the revolution. At this historic moment, when the future of the revolution hung in the Balance, he was assassinated. Among the persons eulogizing him was the Marquis de Sade. (13) One may well ask how the nobleman from Provence, notorious for his sexual obsessions, ended up on the side of the most radical representative of the bourgeois revolution.

On 14 July 1789 the people of Paris had stormed the Bastille, a garrisonlike prison, thereby starting revolutionary upheavals in all of France. Among the Bastille prisoners released that day was Sade, who at that point had already been incarcerated for more than ten years. However, the reason for his imprisonment was not his opposition to a despotic monarchy but rather his imagined as well as real sexual debaucheries. Later, it would again be his "monstrous writings" (Weiss) that would lead to his renewed incarceration. (14)

Nonetheless, it cannot be doubted that Sade opposed the monarchy and the nobility whose brutalization and sexual depravity he had recounted in horrifying detail in his 120 Days of Sodom (1785), a sick chronicle of a sick society. He supported the liberation of the individual and the elimination of a ruling caste that for so long had kept him in prison. Thus, he found himself at times on the side of the revolution to which he was now indebted for his release. He seems, however, not to have shared the Montagnards' radical demands, such as the redistribution of feudal Lands, being himself the owner of feudal property; but it could do no harm to display his fidelity to the republic by eulogizing Marat. (15) Little did it help him. Sade was soon back in prison, suspected of counterrevolutionary activity. After the execution of Robespierre (1794) he was set free one more time, only to be interned once and for all, a few years after Napoleon seized power, at the Charenton Asylum. While there he did a lot of writing, including plays that he also staged, using fellow inmates as Performers. Never, however, did Sade either write or put an a play about Marat's assassination.

Drawing on and generally adhering to these historic facts, Weiss in 1963 thought up a play that takes place in the Charenton Hospice on 13 July 1808. More accurately, Charenton in 1808 forms the framework for a play that takes place fifteen years earlier. In the Plot of the framework the inmates and the hospice director Coulmier, along with his family, gather in the hospice's bath house to watch some of the inmates perform a play about the murder of Jean Paul Marat. During the Performance Coulmier and his family from time to time intervene to critique opinions expressed by the characters or to restore order among the inmates who are getting restless. While reenacting the murder of Marat the inmates/actors at Charenton become so excited that they cause a tumult that, at Coulmier's command, the attendants try to suppress.
As this tumult reaches a feverish pitch the curtain is lowered.
Within the framework of the events at Charenton, the drama of Marat's murder forms a play within a play. The events surrounding Marat's murder are performed by patients interned because of mental illness or "for political reasons" who in turn are played by actors. (16) On a temporal level Sade's play about the 1793 murder is written and performed in 1808; this (fictional) play was actually written in 1963 by Weiss, and is performed (or read) at the present time. Marat/Sade has a complex, multilayered structure, in which one may loose oneself to the point where it seems nearly impossible to make any definite statement about the play. Nevertheless, Marat/Sade is not a precursor of postmodern arbitrariness. It has an objective tendency that can be brought out through rational discourse. Still, it is useful to keep in mind the multilayered structure of the play: Statements about Marat/Sade should always contain a measure of doubt.

In Weiss's dramatic fiction the play within a play is written and staged by one of the hospice inmates, the Marquis de Sade. It shows Marat sitting in the bathtub in his living room on 13 July 1793, completing notes for a speech he is to deliver to the National Assembly the following day, the fourth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. Marat reflects an the course of the revolution, discussing it with Jacques Roux, the Leader of the enragés, and the Marquis de Sade (thus, Sade is a character in his own play). In a parallel plot development Charlotte Corday arrives in Paris from the provinces, buys a knife, and has a discussion with the Girondiste deputy Dupperet whose political position she shares. On 13 July she twice calls on Marat in vain, but on her third visit she is admitted and stabs him.

The focus of the play within a play that makes up the main part of Marat/ Sade is on Jean Paul Marat, who is not only a naturalist and physician but also a writer (a fact that is emphasized particularly in scene 28) who wants to go beyond his journalistic efforts by intervening directly in the historic events. The parallel to the writer, Weiss, who was himself in a process of radicalization and moving toward political activism, is apparent. In the National Assembly Marat represents the left wing of the bourgeoisie and supports the rights of the Fourth Estate, the sansculottes. His demands for pushing the revolution still further, and his insistence, along with the sansculottes, on the redistribution of wealth clearly go beyond the historic Possibilities of the late eighteenth century: they are directed at Weiss's own time. This is brought out in the programmatic speech in scene 23. Marat begins with a warning against the "lies . . . about the ideal state" that are spread by the Girondistes (54). Never had the rich been prepared to "give away their property / of their own free will" (54). If at times the condition of the workers improved, it was only as a means of having the Profits of the entrepreneurs increase even more. Here Marat's argumentation is no longer directed merely at late eighteenth century France. Subsequently, the anachronisms in his speech become more pronounced: for instance, when he mentions the owners "in their marble homes and granite [in the original German: steel] banks" (56), or when he later speaks of "agents, stockbrokers, and speculators" (76). Marat's accusation that those in power "rob the people of the world / under the pretense of bringing them culture" (56) seems directed more at twentieth century imperialism than at eighteenth century colonialism. And Marat's warning to the revolutionary masses not to let themselves be deceived by a slight improvement in their living standard seems aimed more at the era of Weiss than that of the French Revolution:

Don't be taken in
when they pat you paternally an the shoulder and say
that there's no inequality worth speaking of (55 56).

That class differences were no longer worth speaking of had been a claim Weiss himself had supported in his essay "Aus dem Kopenhagener Journal" of 1960. Two years later, however, in "Aus dem Pariser Journal," Weiss signaled his doubts by asking whether such a claim might not serve to "lull" social criticism. The change in Weiss's thinking can be further traced in the notebooks, where, in the fall of 1963, Marat's warning to the Fourth Estate was First formulated: "There will come times when people will say that class conflicts no longer exist" (N 1/93). In the play, ultimately, Marat dismisses out of hand the notion that class differences had disappeared.

Marat's critique of the concept of private property championed by the Girondiste upper bourgeoisie represents the most advanced Position of the French Revolution. At the time, however, Marat's concepts did not prevail; given the political and economical realities of his time, they probably could not prevail. To this extent, Marat is, in fact, "a premature hero," as Manfred Haiduk has noted. (17) Haiduk's phrase refers to Friedrich Engels's work, Der Deutsche Bauernkrieg (The German Peasants War), where it is stated about Thomas Münzer, the radical leader of the peasants' revolt: "The worst thing that can happen to the leader of an extremist party is to be forced to take over the government in an epoch when the movement is not yet ripe for domination by the class he represents and for implementation of the measures which this class domination requires." (18) In the context of the French Revolution the revolutionary movement was not yet ripe for domination by the sansculottes, the masses of the Fourth Estate, or for a socialist form of society. The time was ripe for the bourgeoisie, represented by the Gironde and its ideology which, as Marat ironically notes, "writes into the declaration of the rights of man / the holy right of property" (35). (The enduring consequences of this right can be seen two centuries later: in order to obtain recognition and economic support from capitalist countries, the formerly socialist European countries are required to introduce those human rights favored by the West, especially the right to a free market which is just another word for what Marat, in Weiss's play, terms "the holy right of property"). By demanding the elimination of this "right," by combating the economic goals of the bourgeoisie, Marat was a precursor of Karl Marx, as Peter Weiss noted. (19) But there are also important differences. Marx's thinking was shaped by his ongoing analysis of the possibilities and limits of his epoch by his historical materialism. Marat's demands, in contrast, are characterized by their idealism and voluntarism:

Against Nature's silence I use action
In the vast indifference I invent a meaning
The important thing
is to pull yourself up by your own pair
(26 27, emphasis added).

In these lines it is the wish and will of the individual that appears to control material reality, exactly in the Sense of the classical idealism of Schiller, who had his character Wallenstein say, "It is the mind that creates the body." (20) Nothing in Marat/Sade or in Weiss's comments about the play indicates that Marat's idealism ought to be questioned. Rather, it appears to reflect Weiss's own idealism. In this regard, too, the dramatist resembled his creation.
In the play Marat is said to be "a hundred years ahead" of his time. (21) This evaluation makes a connection between his actions and the rise of the industrial working class in the Late-Nineteenth century and, ultimately, with the October Revolution. Today, the negative outcome of this historic event can be ascertained. The question of whether Marat was ahead of his time by a century or even longer, or, as Sade mockingly suggests, whether even in July 1793 his thinking was lagging behind historical developments (33), seems to have been answered against Marat and in favor of Sade. But history has a way of bringing back issues that the victors had long assumed had been laid to rest.

In the play within a play, Marat's position is not the most radical; that role is assigned to Jacques Roux and the four singers who represent the sansculottes, or the Fourth Estate. Cucurucu, Polpoch, Kokol, and Rossignol repeatedly remind Marat of everything that still needs to be accomplished and try to push the revolution along:

Marat we're poor and the poor stay poor
Marat don't make us wait any more
We want our rights and we don't care how
We want our revolution NOW (11, sec also 35, 70 71).

Roux demands that the food warehouses be opened and the churches closed, and that ownership of the means of production be handed over to the people (44). Even more than Marat, Roux tries to drive the revolution beyond the material limits set by the epoch. He anticipates the goals of the proletarian revolution with his prophetic words at the end of Marat/Sade: "When will you learn to see / When will you learn to take sides" (101). Even more than Marat, Roux embodies "the premature hero." Soon after Marat's death he was to be arrested by the revolutionary government and was to commit suicide, but the play ends before he meets his fate. In Marat/Sade Roux's extreme position provides a kind of utopian vanishing point against which Marat's goals as well as the accomplishments of the bourgeois revolution up to our present must be measured.

In Weiss's drama of the revolution the Marquis de Sade is the great counterpart of Marat. But it should be kept in mind that the marquis too had contributed to bringing about the revolution (46). Sade also shares with Marat hatred of the aristocrats, these "monstrous representatives of a dying class'' who could be spared endless boredom only by the guillotine (23), as well as a disdain for the members of the Bourgeoisie outdoing each other in trying to demonstrate their patriotism. In the year 1808 at Charenton, Sade still holds positions supportive of the revolution. Coulmier, the director of the asylum, repeatedly feels compelled to object to the rebellious talk in Sade's play and to praise the progressiveness of Napoleonic society. In so doing he "unintentionally calls attention to what he would like to conceal," (22) and what is revealed with heavy irony in Sade's play (especially in the herald's monologues) namely, the bad social conditions in Napoléonic France. Coulmier, this embodiment of the restoration who in his own mind sees himself as representative of the revolution, is the counterpart of Sade in the Charenton scenes. A comparison with Coulmier's speeches reveals to what degree the thinking of the Marquis de Sade remains indebted to the revolution and the goals of Marat.
Sade's disputes which Marat breaks out at the point where Marat challenge: the people to the use of force, where he proclaims approval of the coming horrors of the revolution:

And what's a bath full of blood
compared to the bloodbaths still to come
Once we thought a hundred corpses would be enough,
then we saw thousands were still too few (15).

The revolutionary terror predicted here by Marat (it would start only after Marat's death in October 1793) is depicted in a pantomime in scene 11. Entitled "Deaths Triumph," the scene is a tribute to the painting of the same name by Brueghel, the first great Inspiration for Peter Weiss's painting. While the pantomime of beheadings ordered by the revolution takes place Marat reminds those who lament this bloodbath of how long they had exploited and robbed the people before there finally occurred this resort to revenge (21). Sade himself is among these belatedly righteous people. He, too, had wanted revenge, he maintains (48), but when his revenge fantasies became horrible reality, he shied away. He tells of his tailor, "a gentle cultured man" who murdered a Swiss (one of the king's Swiss guards) in a horrifyingly brutal manner (32). When forced to witness a heinous mop up action against a Carmelite convent (48), Sade becomes sick. When he became a member of the revolutionary tribunal, he realized that "I couldn't bring myself / to deliver the prisoners to the hangman" (48). He counters Marat's vision of mass executions to come with the description of the horror of the execution of a single human being: the dismemberment of Damiens in 1757 after his assassination attempt on Louis XV.

By no means does the marquis, by his unbearably detailed descriptions of scenes of horror, wish to appeal to pity, for, as he contemptuously states, "Compassion is the property of the privileged classes" (26). Sade's topic is the reality of the human body. Just as there are idealistic positions held by Marat, Sade's stance here is materialistic. All his sexual excesses, the tortures meted out and suffered, and the long years of suffering in prison have taught him "that this is a world of bodies" (92). He is obsessed with this thought. He repeatedly, insistently talks of the reality of the body, its ecstasy and its pain, as when he speaks of

the orifices of the body
put there
so one may hook and twine oneself in them (93)

or when he tells Marat, "You lie in your bath / as if you were in the pink water of the womb" (33), when he conjures up the horrors of the revolution in a scene he witnessed of

women running by
holding in their dripping hands
the severed genitals of men (49)

or when he calls Marat's attention to the body of his future murderess, Corday,

forget the rest
there's nothing else
beyond the body (91).

Sade's materialism is a materialism of the body.
The same can be said of Peter Weiss. His work, with its recurring obsessive passages about sexuality and torture, is suffused with the realization that this is a world of bodies. As a consequence of Weiss's turning toward Marxism, this obsession became increasingly grounded in material reality. Specifically, it came to include the way in which these "bodies" produce their lives and organize themselves by forming classes and different kinds of societies. Thus, the liberation loudly demanded by the oppressed at the end of Marat/Sade has two sides to it, "Revolution revolution / copulation copulation" (101). Pain and ecstasy of the body; a continuing Obsession which in Marat/Sade makes Weiss once again conjure up that gruesome vision from his painting "Adam, Eve, and Cain" of 1946 in which corpses are being ploughed into a field. This Image, already recreated in Conversation of the Three Wayfarers, is evoked here by one of the mentally disturbed inmates:

The earth is spread
The earth is spread
thick with squashed human guts (32).

This Obsession which the suffering of the body is also reflected in Corday's anticipatory description of her own execution, "Now I know what it is like l when the head is cut off the body" (86). Fifteen years later, in The Aesthetics of Resistance, the guillotine execution of women, antifascist resistance fighters, again had to be described. Peter Weiss had long thought that this scene would defy description; and perhaps only he, having prepared for it through all of his oeuvre, was capable of putting it into words. The chapter on these executions in The Aesthetics of Resistance must be considered one of the great passages of the literature of our time.

In his awareness of this "world of bodies" Sade seems superior to Marat. Superior, too, is Sade's insight about the blurred distinction between perpetrators and victims, "I do not know if I am hangman or victim" (31), and "In a criminal society / I dug the criminal out of myself" (47). Such insights; it should be recalled, tormented Peter Weiss from his early years when he realized that only through a twist of fate was he spared from becoming a Nazi perpetrator, just as only through a series of coincidences he was later spared from becoming a Nazi victim. His artist's creative Imagination had made him aware of the frailty of his identity and of his whole existence.

In Marat/Sade it is the marquis who formulates this insight. Here again he appears superior to the rationalist Marat, who perceives only perpetrators and victims. The marquis objects to such simplification. He is completely over whelmed by the physical reality of the execution of a single human being, Damiens. Anyone capable of imagining in such unbearable detail the horror of a single death has to be appalled at the thought of exterminating thousands.

Marat, of course, believes that these deaths are "necessary" or unavoidable if the revolution is to succeed. The Marquis de Sade a pacifist and humanist, and Marat a bloodthirsty monster, as portrayed by bourgeois historians? Not quite.
Sade, who wants to have nothing to do with revolutionary terror, also wants to have nothing to do with impeding it: "I . . . watch what happens / without joining in" (50). In exact contrast to Marat, he is a writer who does not want to intervene in the course of historical events. He represents no program, no morality, and certainly not the future. His attitude is indifference, apathy, satiety, and repulsion. He cares nothing about France, about any country (40 41). He cares nothing about the masses (40 41), about idealists, or about "any of the sacrifices / that have been made for any cause" (41). He considers the new rulers the same kind of crooks as their predecessors. He finds ridiculous the revolutionary ideas about the equality of human beings (57). In a solipsistic movement he announces his resignation from the revolutionary committees (50), he turns away from reality= 'for me the only reality is imagination" (34) and retreats into his own individual existence, "I believe only in myself" (41).

To adequately appreciate Sade's postrevolutionary hangover it is necessary to keep in mind the structure of Marat/Sade. In the play within a play it is not Sade himself who is speaking. Rather, an image of him is conveyed that the marquis in Weiss's fiction created fifteen years later in Charenton. Since the murder of Marat, Sade has seen the Thermidor (the fall of the revolutionary government and the execution of Danton and Robespierre); he has experienced the end of the people's movement and the return of the conservative bourgeoisie, the rise of Bonaparte and the 18th Brumaire when Bonaparte seized dictatorial power; and finally, by the time he is interned in Charenton, Sade has lived through the completion of the restoration which had culminated in the crowning of Napoleon as emperor.

Sade in Charenton can regard the revolution only from the perspective of defeat; he cannot declare Marat right. "In the year 1808 Sade is incapable of writing and staging a Marat drama in which the people's tribune [Marat] could be given historical justice." (23) This must be kept in mind in any discussion as to whether, in Marat/Sade, the marquis or Marat prevails. The issue of who is right, which still dominates the debate over Weiss's drama, has at times been conducted in a purely formalist manner. Thus it was argued that Sade wrote the play (within the play), that Sade created Marat, and that Sade's superiority could be asserted merely by looking at the formal structure of Marat/Sade. (24) This line of argument omits consideration of the reality of the stage as well as the contradictory elements, the ambiguity and plurality of meanings of Weiss's dramatic creation. This purely formal argument can sag the interpreter the trouble of seriously examining Marat's arguments. There might be better justification for an argument based purely an content, which holds that the demands of the French Revolution have long since been implemented; hence Marat is ultimately right.

Weiss himself became involved in this dispute over the tendency of the play. His various statements show that he was initially leaning toward Sade who, vacillating between his hatred of the ruling class and his aversion to the bloodbath of the revolution, adheres to a "third approach." (25) After having insisted until only a short time before the writing of Marat/Sade that he ha no idea of his own standpoint (G/R 57), Weiss now claimed Sade's "the approach" for himself and critics accepted this claim. Under the influence of the GDR staging of Marat/Sade in Rostock, however, Weiss began to move closer to Marat's position and eventually came to insist "A staging of my play in which Marat does not ultimately appear as the moral victor would be inappropriate." (26) West German critics turned Weiss's change of allegiance against him, even though it would not appear all that unusual for an author to interpret his or her own work and an occasion to change that interpretation. The dispute was not without effect on the five versions of Marat/Sade that Weiss created between 1963 and 1965. Although the spoken words were not significantly changed, Weiss introduced his evolving interpretations into the play by revising the stage instructions, which were modified through the various versions. (27)

Marat's radical Jacobinism was greeted with little understanding by West German audiences in the year 1964, as was noted soon after the premiere Marat/Sade. (28) In stagings in the capitalist West, Sade's superiority was generally emphasized, an interpretation that cannot be explained merely by pointing out that the cold war was at its peak. The theatricality of Weiss undertaking, this ebullient amalgam of song, dance, and pantomime, of comical, tragic, melodramatic, lyrical, scenes, and of strong eroticism and unbearable brutality, portrayed by mental patients in an insane asylum, easily seduces directors into stagings that affirm the marquis's position.

That was clearly the case with Peter Brook's London staging at the Aldwych Theatre in the fall of 1964. The filmed version of Brook's staging, al; directed by Brook, was to determine for years to come the thinking about Marat/Sade in the English speaking countries. Audiences got to see severe disturbed mental patients, who, incessantly and fascinatingly preoccupied with their morbid ticks and behavior, delivered indifferently a text that was incomprehensible to them. Dwelling with dramatic artistry on the madness of the figures, Brook showed far less interest in the ideological disputes in the play. The English director coercively merged Brechtian alienation with Antonin Artaud's Theater of Cruelty. (29) What may have been gained for the stage in terms of theatricality, however, was lost in the filming. Brook had far less experience with filmmaking than with theater. During the filming he further heightened the onstage excesses by using such avant garde techniques of the time as handheld cameras, wide angle lenses, and hectic montage. In a formal sense the result is somewhat amateurish; the events get out of control, madness prevails. This concept corresponds only vaguely to the objective tendency of Weiss's play. The rational core of the dialogue between Sade and Marat and most particularly Marat's revolutionary struggle for the rights of the sansculottes and the Fourth Estate were largely lost.

And so it is not surprising that some interpreters of Marat/Sade to this day maintain that Weiss was not intent on rational insight. (30) This is refuted by the play's dialectical structure, wherein ideological positions are constantly juxtaposed and which, beyond all the theatrical excesses, stimulates reflection. The theses and antitheses of Marat, Sade, Roux, and Coulmier are altogether suited for fostering rational analysis among audiences and readers alike.


1. Peter Weiss, "Gegen die Gesetze der Normalität" (1962), in Weiss, Rapporte (Frankfurt/ Main: Suhrkamp, 2d ed., 1981) 73.

2 . See Peter Weiss, "Aus dem Pariser Journal" (1962), in Weiss, Rapporte 86 87.

3. The page numbers in parentheses refer to Peter Weiss, Conversation of the Three Wayfarers (Das Gespräch der drei Gehenden, 1962), trans. Rosemarie Waldrop, in Weiss, Bodies and Shadows (New York: Delacorte, 1969).

4. See Peter Weiss, "Bericht über Einrichtungen und Gebräuche in den Siedlungen der Grauhäute" (1963), in Peter Weiss. In Gegensätzen denken. Ein Lesebuch, selected by Rainer Gerlach and Matthias Richter (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1986) 119 35.

5. Sepp Hiekisch Picard, "Zwischen surrealistischem Protest und kritischem Engagement. Zu Peter Weiss' früher Prosa," in Heinz Ludwig Arnold, cd., Text + Kritik 37 (Peter Weiss), completely revised 2d ed. (1982) 31.

6. Peter Weiss, Night with Guests (Nacht mit Gästen, 1963), trans. Laurence Dobie; Stanley Richards, ed., The Best Short Plays, 1968 (Philadelphia: Chilton, 1968) 141.

7. Otto F Best, Peter Weiss (Bern: Francke, 1971) 71.

8 . See Peter Weiss, Stücke I (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1976) 456.

9. See Manfred Haiduk, Der Dramatiker Peter Weiss (East Berlin: Henschelverlag, 1977) 38.

10. See the comments about Marat and Corday in Karlheinz Braun ed., Materialien zu Peter Weiss' "Marat/Sade" (Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1967).

11. See Walter Markov and Albert Soboul, 1789. Die Grosse Revolution der Franzosen (Cologne: Pahl Rugenstein, 2d ed., 1980) 63, 88.

12. Markov and Soboul 283. My summary of the historical events generally follows Markov and Soboul.

13. See Sade's speech in Braun, ed., Materialien 14 15.

14. See Braun, cd., Materialien B.

15. See Haiduk 51.

16. The reference to patients interned "for political reasons," contained in the description of the characters that opens the German text, is missing in the English translation. The play is quoted here from its English edition: Peter Weiss, 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 (Die Verfolgung und Ermordung Jean Paul Marats dargestellt durch die Schauspielgruppe des Hospizes zu Charenton unter Anleitung des Herrn de Sade), trans. Geoffrey Skelton (New York: Atheneum, 1981). Page numbers in the text refer to this edition.

17. Haiduk 49.

18. Friedrich Engels, Der Deutsche Bauernkrieg (1850) (East Berlin: Dietz, 1974) 122.

19. See Weiss, Stücke 1463.

20. Friedrich Schiller, Wallensteins Tod, act 111, scene 13.

21. The quotation is contained in the German version of the passage "POOr Marat, you lie prostrate"; it has been omitted from the English version (85).

22. Haiduk 90.

23. Karlheinz Braun, "Schaubude Irrenhaus Auschwitz. Überlegungen zum Theater des Peter Weiss," in Braun, cd., Materialien 140.

24. See Peter Schneider, "Über das Marat Stück von Peter Weiss" (1964), in Braun, cd., Materialien 132. See also Rainer Nägele's refutation of this line of argument in his "Zum Gleichgewicht der Positionen. Reflexionen zu Marat/Sade von Peter Weiss," in Reinhold Grimm and Jost Hermand, eds., Basis. Jahrbuch für deutsche Gegenwartsliteratur 5 (Frankfurt/ Main: Suhrkamp, 1975): 151 53.

25. See Peter Weiss, "Author's Note an the Historical Background to the Play," in Weiss, Marat/Sade 106.

26. Peter Weiss in a conversation in Spring 1965; See Braun, ed., Materialien 101.

27. For the various versions of Marat/Sade, See Braun, ed., Materialien 29-65.

28. See Henning Rischbieter, "Swinarskis Inszenierung in Berlin,  in Braun, ed., Materialien 79.

29. See Peter Brook, "Introduction," in Weiss, Marat/Sade, English version, v vii. Influenced by Brook's approach, some interpretations of Marat/Sade tend to overemphasize the connection wich Artaud's concept of the theater. See also Susan Sontag's review of Brook's theatrical staging which had a lasting influence an the reception of the play in the United States. Susan Sontag, "Marat/Sade/Artaud," Partisan Review 32, no. 2 (Spring 1965): 210-19.

30. See Christian Bommert, " 'Offene Fragen im phantastischen Tumult'. Die Revolutionsinterpretation in Peter Weiss' 'Marat' Drama," in Harro Zimmermann, ed., Schreckensmythen-Hoffnungsbilder. Die Französische Revolution in der deutschen Literatur (Frankfurt/ Main: Atheneum, 1989) 342.