"The purpose of playing… was and is, to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure."
-Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 2
This concept is an artist’s gospel. What does it mean? Simply put, it means our obligation is to be truthful, inclusive, non-judgmental and relevant. When we look into the mirror- what we choose to see is one thing, but what the image encapsulates is another. Our reflection has no opinion. It simply exists, and the rest is up to us.
Nature, like us, is so full of beauty. It’s also full of brutality, ugliness and sometimes unfathomable ambiguity. Art, specifically theatre in our case, allows us to explore all facets indiscriminately. Our human obligation suddenly got a whole lot funner.
The Marquis de Sade- whose rabid erotic works inspired the term sadism- preferred literature as a medium. His perspective, although unusual, is no less valid than anyone else’s- some say he was the first surrealist. He had strong opinions as to what was virtue and what to scorn and his critics avoided the ladder part of Hamlets speech- the body of the time. The Marquis paramount crime? Writing "truth as life has taught (him) to perceive it."
In Quills, Doug Wright uses the idea of the Marquis de Sade as a mechanism for exploring taboo dollops. In the style of the Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol- basically theatre histories first naturalist performance concept (see: theatre of cruelty, the immersive avant garde, slasher movies) we’re able to exploit exploitation. This play is not a documentary: rather, it is an exultant fiction in which the Marquis’s preoccupations/attitudes are enlisted to tell a very relevant story.
Although this is not an authentic retelling based on actual events, our characters are no less human. Through a hypnagogic lens, we are able to relate to the seemingly unrelatable. In that, our perception of the real-life Marquis- embroiled over years of overstated eminence and controversy- becomes tangible.
Fact, fiction and perspicacity aside, a reflection may be notionless but history is absolute: The Marquis influence- intention over content- has been enormous in every sphere of Modernist art. His aim was to destroy every illusion surrounding human sexuality, be it historical, moral or religious, which inspired artists to look at the body in a new way. In visual art, how Picasso plays with the body, inside and out, showing it dominated by the gaze of the viewer. In cinema, from Hitchcock to 50 Shades of friggin’ Grey. Once you start looking, Sade’s presence is immersed throughout popular culture.
The Count de Sade- a modern day relative of the Marquis- resides in a quiet residential street on the Right Bank of Paris. He adorns his coffee table with 120 Days of Sodom, and when asked if he’s ever gotten any guff over his infamous ancestor, he replies "Au contraire… people are fascinated to learn that the Marquis de Sade was, in fact, not a fictional figure at all."
The push and pull of the people’s tide inflate and pummel with the fashion. Where will our perceptions lie in 500 years?