Considered among the most influential figures in the evolution of modern drama theory, Artaud associated himself with surrealist writers, artists, and experimental theater groups in Paris during the s. When political differences resulted in his break from the surrealists, he founded the Theatre Alfred Jarry with Roger Vitrac and Robert Aron. Together they hoped to create a forum for works that would radically change French theater. Artaud, especially, expressed disdain for Western theater of the day, criticizing the ordered plot and scripted language his contemporaries typically used to convey ideas, instead championing a return to the primitive and ritualistic in drama.
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He developed the theory of the Theater of Cruelty, which has influenced playwrights from Beckett to Genet, from Albee to Gelber. Antonin-Marie-Joseph Artaud was born in Marseilles on September 4, , the son of a wealthy shipfitter and a mother from a Greek background. At age five he suffered a near-fatal attack of meningitis, the results of which remained with him for the rest of his life. Still in his teens, he began to have sharp head pains, which continued throughout his life.
In he was the victim of an attack of neurasthenia and was treated in a rest home; the following year he was given opium to alleviate his pain, and he became addicted within a few months. He was inducted into the army in , but was released in less than a year on grounds of both mental instability and drug addiction.
In he committed himself to a clinic in Switzerland, where he remained until On his release, he went immediately to Paris, still under medical supervision, and began to study with Charles Dullin, an actor and director.
He soon began to find jobs as a stage and screen actor and as a set and costume designer. Artaud broke with the organized surrealist movement in , when Breton became a Communist and attempted to take his fellow-members with him into the party. Their theater had no permanent home, so they leased space in established theaters.
Working as a theatrical producer gave Artaud an insight into the exigencies of the practical aspects of theater, with which he was not happy. Then, in , he saw a Balinese drama at the French Colonial Exposition in Paris and found in this work, which stressed spectacle and dance, the ideal for which he had been searching. In any event, it was a total failure. Shattered, Artaud went to Mexico in and stayed there for the better part of a year, spending some time with the sun-worshipping Tarahumara Indians.
On his return to France, he became engaged to a Belgian girl and tried to end his drug dependence. In May of , giving a lecture in Brussels, he went completely out of control and began screaming at the audience. In the fall of that same year, on a visit to Ireland, he was declared mentally unfit, put in a straitjacket, and sent back to France. Artaud died of cancer on March 4, , in a rest home near Paris.
Unlike his fellow theoretician of the drama, Bertolt Brecht, whose plays have been widely honored and frequently performed, Artaud had no success at all with his endeavors in drama, poetry, or fiction.
His reputation rests entirely on his critical work. In a word, Artaud called for a theater that is anti-intellectual. He believed that the drama of the past years had become sterile and had no future. In the essay "No More Masterpieces" he laid the blame for the psychologically oriented drama on Shakespeare and elsewhere blamed Racine, but, wherever the responsibility lies, he asserted that the attempts "to reduce the unknown to the known, to the quotidian and ordinary" had brought the theater to the sorry state in which he found it.
Besides the psychological concerns, he also objected to the emphasis on the written word, the primacy of spoken poetry. In "The Theater of Cruelty First Manifesto " he said that "it is essential to put an end to the subjugation of the theater to the text and to recover the notion of a kind of unique language half-way between gesture and thought.
In the essays "Letters on Cruelty," Artaud said, "This cruelty is a matter of neither sadism nor bloodshed. There is no cruelty without consciousness. Instead of poetic language, there would be a series of sounds and " … these intonations will constitute a kind of harmonic balance, a secondary deformation of speech.
Hence, his influence continued to be strong decades after his death in Richards Any good history of 20th-century theater will contain a good analysis, e. Additional Biography Sources Esslin, Martin. Esslin, Martin. Encyclopedia of World Biography. Copyright The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
Artaud was diagnosed with meningitis at age five, a disease which had no cure at the time. He was discharged due to addiction to laudanum and mental instability. Intonation is found within oneself and pushed out with the burning power of feeling, not achieved through imitation". He wrote a number of film scenarios, and ten are listed in his Complete Works. Directed by Germaine Dulac , it is often considered the first surrealist film.
The Theater and Its Double - VI. No More Masterpieces Summary & Analysis
The separation of life and theater, where the latter is but a mirror image of the former, is inherently false. Oriental and Occidental Theater. Subscribe To Posts Atom. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.