Artaud, Antonin (äNtônăNˈ ärtōˈ) [key], 1896–1948, French poet, actor, and director. During the 1920s and 30s he was associated with various experimental theater groups in Paris, and he cofounded the Théâtre Alfred Jarry. Artaud's theories of drama, particularly his concept of the "theater of cruelty," greatly influenced 20th-century theater. He related theater to the plague because both destroy the veneer of civilization, revealing the ugly realities beneath and returning humanity to a primitive state, in which it lacks morality and reason. The aim of the "theater of cruelty" was to disturb the audience and reveal the forces of nature. To achieve this end he emphasized the nonverbal aspects of theater such as color and movement and stressed the importance of violence as a theatrical device. Artaud's most important work is Le Théâtre et son double (1938, tr. 1958). His influence can be seen in the works of Jean Genet, Fernando Arrabal, Peter Weiss, Peter Brook, and Julian Beck and Judith Malina. Artaud was afflicted with mental illness from his childhood, and in 1936 he was declared insane; he spent much of the rest of his life in mental institutions.
See his Selected Writings ed. by S. Sontag (1971); B. L. Knapp, Antonin Artaud: Man of Vision (1980); J. Derrida and P. Thevenin, Antoine Artaud: Drawings and Portraits (1990).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.