“Quartet” by Heiner Müller is an adaptation of the epistolary novel “Dangerous Liaisons” by Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos. Müller boils the material down to a talk between former lovers Merteuil and Valmont, who engage in a power game with numerous role changes.
Unlike Laclos, whose work combines descriptions of the moral ruin of the times with a call for morality and reform, Müller is interested in the actors, in the unfortunate Marquise de Merteuil and no less in the cynical Vicomte de Valmont, who use their partners as puppets. The characters thus wish for a last rendezvous. The chosen time and place – “Salon before the French Revolution/post-WW3 bunker” – imply the apocalyptic character of the world in which they live. Both Merteuil and Valmont approach the world with their immoral rationality and take great pleasure in pushing the world and other people to the brink of destruction because of their morality web. They even have no mercy on themselves, mirroring their physical degradation in each other.
To them, sexuality has become a power game dominated by the lust for destruction. Nevertheless, in order to be able to enjoy their mutual passion, they engage in role play, with Merteuil interpreting Valmont and the virgin niece, while Valmont plays Merteuil and the pious aunt. This game allows them to explore the identity of their sexes, bodies, control and devoutness without ruining their reputation to the world. A world that only differentiates between masters and subjects and encourages a battle between the sexes in which no one wins, a subtle game of butchering and self-destruction of social, political, religious, and moral values.