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Theatre of Cruelty Antonin Artaud

Introduction to Antonin Artaud

The theatre needs to be reconstructed based on this concept of intense activity that is pushed to its absolute boundaries. With the diversions created by psychological theatres, movies, and circuses, it is of no wonder that the common mass is unaware of the worth of an actual theatre, which can nullify all the misconceptions, diversions, and voidness from our lives with its blazing power of attraction and invoke our spiritual self.

Therefore, the concept of the ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ in the 20th century was established by Antonin Artaud, the most significant theatre theorist, and a significant member of the European Avant-garde. He did not view cruelty as being motivated by a materialistic need for existence, but rather as something that should interest both the performer and the audience in the performance.

So, while this is a new sort of temptation, it does not directly contradict the philosophical concept of the stage. Such theatre inspires the overall cultural discourse, such as art, dance, music, and mimicry, producing sounds and vibrations only if they can support and centralize the emphasis on the primary statement without benefiting from any of the above-mentioned cultural manifestations.

According to Artaud, the theatre must deal with all sorts of war, crime, emotions, devotion, and struggles to not remain disclosed within any limitation and form a connection to the heart and soul.

Theatre of Cruelty: Influencing factors

To remove all hindering obstacles from the stage, Artaud recommended a more unconventional space for theatre than the traditional one. He also wanted to form a link between the performers and the audience. So, he positioned them at the centre of the action. Actors were viewed as extremely essential.

According to him, efficiency should be reflected in his performance indeed, but it must also be impartial and passive. He undoubtedly emphasized sign language, body language, and postures while also giving words the equal weight that dreams possess. He also suggested ceremonial-themed attire as the outfit for the actors. But above all comes the director of the play, who is responsible for the loss or success of the play. The director is a theatre artist.

All theatrical productions begin with the guidance of the director. The director is a significant part of the overall performance, even though he does not participate as an actor, because he is in charge of the action and production and is required to provide a spectacle. Some of the equipment like lighting in the theatre was not adequate to elevate the mood of the audience, so Artaud proposed new functions for the lighting apparatus which maintained the density, looseness, and movability of the lights according to the actions. He intended to combine hearing and sight perceptions too.

So, he recommended multiplying the use of musical equipment by producing scary sounds, vibrations, screams, moaning, short shrilled noises, except the only production of music by the instruments. Furthermore, he stressed the influence of theatrical language as a mode of invocation of the mass. The stage’s language must mirror the significance that words have in dreams so that they leave both a conscious and a subconscious impact on one’s mind.

He argued for using a special language for theatre that sits somewhere between mind and action. He also highlighted the importance of the stage and how it should be. He proclaimed that they should be replaced with something akin to a single, undivided location devoid of all divisions and that this would serve as the location of the action. Because the audience is placed in the action, is encompassed, and is creased by it, a connection will be formed between the audience and the performers. The shape of the home itself is what creates this encirclement.

Instead of renting a modern theatre, he advised renting a barn or a similar sort of place that had been restored along the same lines as some holy sites or specific Tibetan monasteries.

Theatre of Cruelty: The First Manifesto

Artaud didn’t use the word “cruel” in the sense of being violent, but he was referring to the cruelty actors must exhibit to reveal the harsh truth that people don’t want to witness. Artaud felt that almost all emotion is a natural outgrowth in space and that the spirit may be expressed in terms of its physical discourse. We can’t keep exploiting the notion of theatre, whose only worth is in its agonizing, magical connection to danger and reality.

By putting it this way, it implies that the question of the theatre should grab everyone’s attention because it allows magical powers like new exorcisms, thanks to its physical aspect, which requires expression in space. As a result, theatre won’t possess the range of abilities to perform until its language has been established. On February 7th (1938), The Theatre and Its Double debuted in the Metamorphoses Collection.

The New lectures, manifestos, and letter extracts are all included in this collection of Antonin Artaud’s works, collectively from 1932. Artaud here strongly emphasized the idea that the theatre must not follow or be subjected to the conventional old texts but rather reclaim the idea of a special language that sits somewhere between thoughts and gestures. Its possibility behind the spontaneous expression in reality, as opposed to the significant direct and indirect speeches of verbal communication, is the only way this language can be described.

And the theatre can still replace speech in terms of its potential for transcending words, expanding in space, and having a dissociated and seismic effect on the senses. This is the time of word tonalities and specific pronunciations. The theatre must use characters and elements to organize this language of noises, screams, lighting, and phonetic pronunciation into actual hieroglyphs and then use their symbolism and linkages to all organs and every dimension.

However, this objective and tangible theatrical language may attract and captivate the organs through an entirely Oriental mode of representation. It rejects Western slang and transforms words into incantations. It makes the voice longer. It makes use of the voice’s characteristics and vibrations. It violently steps on beats. It makes driving noises. It makes an effort to elevate, numb, enchant, and arrest the sensibilities.

It frees up a brand-new lyricism of gesture that ultimately surpasses the lyricism of sound for its intensity of amplitude in space. By expressing the concept of a new and greater intellectuality that masks itself underneath the motions and signs, rising to the level of thought, it ultimately escapes from the intellectual servitude of the language.

Theatre of Cruelty: The Second Manifesto

A passionate and pulsing idea of living has been brought back to theatre through the creation of the Theatre of Cruelty. The harshness on which it is built should be interpreted in this sense of brutal severity and acute condensing of the scenic elements. This harshness, which might be scary when required but not consistently, might be linked to a strict morality that is not afraid to sacrifice a life for what it is worth.

These topics would be cosmological, all-encompassing, and understood by following the earliest writings extracted from ancient Mexican literature. Iranian, Hindu, and Jewish cosmologies.

The Theatre of Cruelty will only speak to the complete man, shunning the psychological man, with his carefully studied personality and feelings, and the social man, subject to rules and distorted by faith and moral commandments. Additionally, it will allow the duplexity of the mind to contribute to the realm of thoughts and imagination, which will coexist with reality.

Moreover, massive social uprisings, disputes among ethnicities and classes, forces of nature, random events, and the magnetism of fatality will manifest either directly or through the movements and expressions of the individuals who have been developed to their full stature. Images from the oldest holy writings and traditional cosmologies will be used to understand these gods, heroes, monsters, and natural and cosmic forces.

We will altogether require the missing scenes and not the conventional texts of materializing those same old squabbles and, above all, giving them spontaneity; in other words, these themes will be borne directly into the action of the play. This is in addition to the need for the theatre to immerse itself in the springs of an everlasting passion as well as voluptuous poetry accessible even to the lowest class and the most indifferent sections of society.

Furthermore, apart from logical understanding, words will be understood not only in their literal sense but also in a mystical way according to their form and their seductive emanations.

According to the anarchistic principle of all genuine poetry, these thrilling monstrous performances, debauches of gods and warriors, revelations of forces, concussive retorts of poems, and humour, are best placed to reorganize the expressions—these representations will not exhibit their magical impact except in a setting of hypnosis state of mind when the senses seem under pressure.

While the senses, or a specific physiological sensibility, are purposefully ignored in today’s digestive theatre and left to the audience’s anarchy, the Theatre of Cruelty seeks to re-establish all the possible incantational, magical methods of captivating the sensibilities. These techniques, which include varying colours, vibrations, lighting, repetitions of spoken or musical phrases, and unique tones, may only be used to their greatest potential when dissonances are present.

These dissonances overlap from one sense to the next. For instance, sound with light and emotions with the gesture, will physically wrap the audience and submerge them in a never-ending stream of light, movements, emotions, and sound. In the same way that there won’t be any space, the spectator’s mind and sensibilities won’t experience any rest or vacuum. That is, there won’t be a clear distinction between life and the theatre; instead, there will be continuity.

The Theatre and its Double

Artaud was born in France in 1896, and after suffering from spinal disease during his childhood, he took off to Paris in 1920 to pursue a writing career, but he developed a keen interest in the avant-garde theatre. Meanwhile, he also continued writing poems and articles. Artaud started working with directors like Georges Pitoeff. Artaud developed a passion for cinema and worked with Germaine Dulac on the movie “The Seashell and the Clergyman”.

The Theatre and Its Double were published in 1938. The first English translation of the compilation of manifestos was first published in 1938, following a bizarre and tragic experience in which he travelled to Ireland. The most comprehensive expression of Artaud’s beliefs can be found in The Theatre and its Double. The sole value of theatre, he argued, is in its agonizing, magical link to realism and risk. In his words, ”We cannot go on prostituting the idea of the theatre”.

After nine years of terrible incarceration in mental hospitals, the dramatist and film actor Antonin Artaud was liberated in 1946. Two years later, he passed away, having left behind a substantial corpus of critical analysis, most notably this one.

Never would his theatre take the side of the powerful. It would constantly be forcing progress from the Avant-leading grade’s edge. His theatre is a representation of this bloodshed (freedom of life, freedom of sexuality), as well as this fundamental division. To immerse the audience in the play, he wanted to blur the line between the stage and the performing area.

He strongly opposed the texts, which rendered the actor unmovable. According to Artaud, it is the distinction between realism and what is simply a dream, between “the virtuality of the conceivable and what already exists in materialized nature.” Therefore, to conclude, Artaud thought that theatre, acting as one it considered to be primarily, the disease, to be eradicated from the world of its cruelty and ugliness, was the only hope for humanity and civilization.


Who was Artaud?

Antonin Artaud was an avant-garde novelist, poet, revolutionary theatre theorist, actor, and surrealist writer, who demanded an end to the “play of reason.” He also created works of art and conducted psychological research. He promoted confrontational theatre known as “theatre of cruelty.”

When was the ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ developed?

It was developed in the 20th century between 1930 and 1936 by Antonin Artaud.