The main characters of Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade Jean Paul Marat and Marquis de Sade are the characters, who stand on totally different grounds and the author uncovers their position through the virtual conflict between Marat’s revolutionist views and Sade’s nihilism. Even though Marat ends up his life being executed, such an ending of the play still does not necessarily mean the victory of Sade’s nihilism. In stark contrast, such ending rather proves the righteousness of Marat and his belief in the possibility of revolutionary changes, than the power of nihilism because Marat has evoked the public consciousness and raised the revolution, which swept him away and eventually executed him, whereas Sade’s nihilism just led to the total isolation and indifference of Sade to the external world, whereas he became focused entirely on his internal world.
The play is built upon the juxtaposition between revolution and nihilism. In fact, the struggle between Marat’s revolutionist idea and Sade’s nihilism is the milestone of the entire play. In this respect, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that Marat and Sade are two philosophers, who stand on absolutely different grounds. At the same time, they are both disenchanted in the world and society because they are conscious of their imperfectness and injustice that rules the world and defines the life of many people. In such a situation, Marat and Sade choose two absolutely different approaches to the solution of existing problems in the society. On the one hand, Marat suggests the revolution that can sweep away the current social order and introduce the new, ideal one. On the other hand, Sade suggests abandoning all the efforts to change humans and the world and focus on the internal world entirely, whereas the external world brings nothing but sufferings.
In fact, Marat stands for revolution and changes. He argues that the society cannot live without changes and changes are essential but changes can occur only in the result of the revolution because the ruling elite will never accept the demands of the oppressed part of the population. Therefore, he believes that the revolution is the only way to change the existing society and to make the life of people better. He believes that the revolutionary struggle can bring positive results to people. He argues that the revolution can change the world for better and changes brought by the revolution can change the very philosophy of the society to the extent that the society will live in harmony and balance to avoid any further revolutions, if the revolution is once conducted properly completes the evolution of the human society.
In stark contrast, Sade stands on the ground of nihilism and contempt of all progressive ideas of Marat. He does not believe in the ability of people to change their life for better. He is a nihilist, who is persuaded that any changes any revolutions will lead to nowhere but another turn leading to the dead-end, where live in sufferings and troubles. This is why he suggests refusing from any attempt to carry on the revolutionary struggle and to focus on the internal world of an individual entirely.
In fact, Marat views revolution as salvation from all the current troubles. In contrast, Sade is disenchanted in revolution:
“At first I saw in the revolution a chance
for a tremendous outburst of revenge
an orgy greater than all my dreams
[CORDAY slowly raises the whip and lashes him. SADE cowers]
But then I saw
when I sat in the courtroom myself
[Whiplash. SADE gasps]
not as I had been before the accused
but as a judge
I couldn’t bring myself
to deliver the prisoner to the hangman
It was inhuman it was dull
and curiously technocratic
And now Marat
[Whiplash. SADE breathes heavily.]
now I see where
the revolution is leading (Weiss, 189).
In such a way, Sade argues that the revolution leads to another bloodshed and new sufferings of people. He sees no point in the revolution because it just leads to the change in the position of different people but does not change the society and social relations proper. The injustice persists in the society and revolution cannot be a salvation, according to Sade.
In this regard, Marat is closer to Wiess’ revolutionary views and belief in the possibility of positive changes in the society through the revolutionary struggle. Obviously, Marat expresses the author’s idea that the revolution can bring changes essential for the elimination of fundamental social and economic problems, such as the problem of poverty. In this regard, Marat is more persuading than Sade because he carries on his struggle and he is never giving in until the end. It seems as if the death fails to tame him. Instead, Marat carries on his struggle and his spirit is invisibly present even decades after his death in the revolutionary time.
Weiss, P. Marat/Sade. New York: Penguin Classics, 2009.