Madame De Sade is a play by Japanese playwright and commiter-of-seppuku Yukio Mishima. The play, which was written in 1965, was translated into English by Donald Keene.
Taking place over a period of 18 years preceding, during and immediately after the French Revolution the play concerns 6 women (3 real, and 3 fictional) all of whom have been profoundly affected by Donatien Alphonse François, marquis de Sade. We see their interactions, but we never see the famous libertine himself - throughout the action he is confined to various prisons. Nonetheless, he is always a palpable presence in the play, largely because the characters never actually talk about anything else.
First is the title character, Renee, De Sade's wife. Throughout the play she proves herself to be (in her own words) a monster of devotion, campaigning tirelessly for her husband's release, despite his various scandalous peccadilloes, including an affair with her younger sister and the torture and sexual abuse of underage prostitutes, servants (male and female) and eventually, during a brief escape from prison, Madame de Sade herself. Within this play, she seems to represent mindless devotion, through her adherence to duty and the fantasy of love. She does not see anything de Sade does as betrayal until, while incarcerated, he writes the novel Justine wherein Renee sees herself portrayed as the misused lead character, seeking virtue, but sinking ever-deeper in depravity. Whether this is the case or not, within the play it is the catalyst which finally leads Renee to conclude that her husband (referred to throughout the play as Alphonse) has never loved her, and serves to explain the mystery Mishima was seeking to explore: why, after spending nearly 20 years seeking to gain De Sade's freedom, Renee never saw him after it was obtained, instead divorcing him and retiring to a convent. Renee might feasibly be said to represent the masochist.
The second character, another historical figure, is Renee's sister Anne. Seduced by Alphonse, and persuaded to run away with him to Naples when he was first due to be arrested, within the play, Anne is presented as the submissive, manipulated by both Alphonse and Renee, who allows De Sade moments of normality by presenting no challenge to his dominance or intelligence.
The final historical character is Renee's mother Madame de Montreuil. Although she originally arranged the marriage between her daughter and Alphonse, to connect her family to French royalty, and although at the beginning of the play she is working to obtain his release in an attempt to minimise scandal, as the play continues she becomes Renee's most implacable opposition, standing for outraged conventional morality, and not prepared to see any virtue in De Sade or his perversities.
Similarly, the other three women represent perspectives on De Sade, though they have been created to do so. Charlotte, the servant represents victims, abused and subjugated, Madame de Simiane, a pious woman who grew up with de Sade represents his opportunity for redemption, and when he implicitly refuses this in writing Justine, she offers sanctuary to Renee. Finally there is the Countess Saint-Fond, a courtesan who eventually embraces De Sade's most extreme behaviours, finding 'freedom' in the wholesale rejection of conventional morality.
The play was revived in London at the Donmar Warehouse in 2009. starring Judi Dench as Madame de Montreuil and Rosamunde Pike as Renee. It was, despite this cast (and Dame Judi is generally revered), panned unmercifully by critics.
With reason. Though it explores interesting elements of philosophy, Madame de Sade does it all through an increasingly tedious dialectic interchange of ideas, more suited for the debating chamber than the stage. However fine the acting, directing or costuming might be - and all were praised - there's no getting round the fact that the script is, quite frankly, a complete dog. Each woman, in being forced to represent an aspect and perception of De Sade, loses any real humanity and depth of character, and as monologue follows monologue even the most poetic of language soon becomes wearisome. At one point Renee says "The world we are living in was created by the Marquis de Sade" and it certainly feels that way when you watch it - which is really not something to be desired.