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theatre of cruelty


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A term introduced by the French actor Antonin Artaud in a series of manifestos in the 1930s, collected as Le Théâtre et son double (1938). It refers to his projected revolution in drama, whereby the rational ‘theatre of psychology’ was to be replaced by a more physical and primitive rite intended to shock the audience into an awareness of life's cruelty and violence. The idea, derived partly from Surrealism, was that the audience should undergo a catharsis through being possessed by a ‘plague’ or epidemic of irrational responses. Artaud's own attempts to put this theory into dramatic practice failed, and he was locked up for some time as a lunatic. Some later dramatists, though, have developed these principles more successfully: a celebrated instance was Peter Brook's production in 1964 of Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.


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