Artaud and Theatre Cruelty

Antonin Artaud born 4th of September 1896 was a French dramatist, poet, actor and theatre director. He was recognize as one of the major figures of twentieth-centuries theatre. In 1920 when he moved to Paris to pursue a career as a writer, he discover that he has a talent for Avant Grande Theatre; he trained and performed with directors but continue to write poet and essays. Artaud also cultivate a great interest in cinema, he wrote the scenario for the first surrealist film ”The Seashell and The Clergyman”.

Artaud believe that theatre should be ”a force for the liberation of human subconscious and revelation of man to him self”. I think he meant that theatre should be a free act to express one subconscious through revelation.  He showed the communion between actors and audience in a magic exorcism; sounds, gestures, unusual scenery and lightening combined to formed a language, superior to words, that can be used to subvert thought and logic and to shock the spectators to seeing the baseness of his world. ”The Theatre and its Double” which was written by him contain the first and second manifesto for a ”Theatre of Cruelty” (which he’s known for), Artaud express his admiration for Eastern Theatre because of the codified, highly ritualized and precise physicality of Balinese dance performance and advocate Theatre of Cruelty. By cruelty, he state he meant not exclusively sadism or causing pain, but just as often a violent, physical determination to shatter the false reality. He believed that the text has been a tyrant over meaning, and advocate, instead for a theatre made up of a unique language, halfway between thought and gestures. Artaud describe the spiritual in physical term and believe that all theatre is physical expression in space.


Theatre of cruelty are performances that are very powerful, and aim to shock and surprise the audience and enable them to face their own fear. Theatre of cruelty can be divided into different categories like; extreme, rituals, concrete and universal language etc. These technique require the use of noises, grunt, screams, gestures, movements and are usually exhausting when carried out. Universal language is a form of communication without the use of words but is able to comprehend by anyone. An example of this is, demonstrating love using facial expression or hand gestures. This exercise was carried out in my lesson and it helps us to understand that Artaud wants his actors to be understood by everyone. Artaud introduce ritual theatre, the inspiration came from the trance-inducing Balinese ritual dance. An example of extreme performance was done by Paris group, they demonstrate this by showing paranoia; first one person did a small movement, then the next person would make the movement slightly bigger. They carried on and make the movement as big as they could, which look almost like they were possess. After carrying out the exercise they were really exhausted.

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