What Antonin Artaud Gave The French Theatre


Antonin Artaud, better known as Antoine Joseph Artaud, was born on the 4th of September in 1896, in Marseille, France. He was a dramatist, actor, poet, and a theoretician of the Surrealist movement. He desired to change the classical ‘bourgeois’ theatre to his own creation of the theatre of cruelty. His creation is a ceremonial experience that was aimed at liberating human subconsciousness.

Early Days

Artaud’s parents had some Levantine Greek traits. His background, in fact, influenced him to a great extent and his interest in mysticism. However, as a young man, he very troubled and was repeatedly sent to asylums owing to mental disorders. He sent his poem in 1925:  L’Ombilic des Limbes with Le Pèse-nerfs to Jacques Riviere. Jacques was an influential critic at the time who appreciated related work. This how the correspondence between the two began.Artaud studied acting in Paris; his debut was in Aurelien Lugne Poe’s Dadaist-Surrealist Theatre de I’ Oeuvre. Artaud’s break with the Surrealist Andre Breton, a poet, who was also their leader, paved his commitment toward communism. He believed he could do with some extra political strength and joined Roger Vitrac, another Surrealist. Artaud played a role in Abel Gance’s film Napoleon in 1927 as Marat and appeared in 1928 in The Passion – Joan of Arc, a classic film by Carl Dreyers, as a friar.

Antonin Artaud as Napaleon (1927)

Theatre of Cruelty: Artaud

He was the sole brainchild behind The Theatre of Cruelty. His view was that the theatre should face any fears of the audience so that they can help them in overcoming their own fears in the best possible way. He believed that the desire to overcome fear meant that there is a need to understand Surrealism.Antonin Artaud followed Surrealism to the ‘T,’ took suggestions from Bretons and combined the Balinese dance’s dramatic movements, and this was the place the Theatre of Cruelty came to be.  The theatre’s time was conventional and was geared towards the bourgeoisie and elite, thus imitating real life. On the other hand, Artaud and a few others such as Bertolt Brecht wanted to have a theatre for the common masses, such that it would bring a transformation in the experience of the audience who patronized the theatrical lifestyle. However, as Brecht started experiencing problems with society, Artaud believed the issues of a man came from the subconscious.

Theatre of Cruelty replica

In the late 1930s, ‘Theatre of Cruelty,’ took the Surrealist approach to develop a ritualized and violent theory toward drama. Artaud believed ‘man was savage beneath the skin’ and considered that the desire to overcome savage impulses, is possible if they should face violence. This is an idea he proposed in his book ‘The Theatre, and It’s Double.’ His wish was to make his audience realize their instinctual feelings were the result of psychological shock. The audiences were shocked after attending Artaud’s play and became sick. In 1948 Artaud died in one of the psychiatric hospitals, but his ideas influenced playwrights well into the 1960s.

Characteristics of the Theatre of Cruelty

Artaud’s used the word ‘cruelty,’ and it was not to mean ‘brutal.’ Instead, he said that the actors must show the audience whatever they crave to see. The actors were directed to be honest, and he wanted to show honest suffering, sense of pain, and evil through gestures, symbols, sounds, replacing words.

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