The Theater and Its Double Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 27 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Theater and Its Double.
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The Theater and Its Double Summary & Study Guide Description

The Theater and Its Double Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Theater and Its Double by Antonin Artaud.

The Theater and Its Double is a collection of essays by French author and actor Antonin Artaud written in the 1920s and 1930s. The book itself was first published in French in 1938. In the book, the author tries to establish a basic theory that is meant to redefine the art of theater using a radical and revolutionary approach, relying mostly on the art of 'mise en scène,' a French expression that refers to everything in theater that should be managed in order to produce a play on a stage including direction, production and staging. The book establishes a relationship between theater and life (reality). In Artaud's mind, theater and reality are two entities that live in separate spheres; as such, they double each other (hence the title of the book). Artaud's radical stance on the art of theater, as expressed in this book, still has a great influence on contemporary art and philosophy. It is a necessary read for anyone involved in creating original art, whether it is theater, video or multimedia.

Antonin Artaud starts by criticizing Occidental theater., which is based on scripts and written language. Artaud shows that language has lost its emotional and logical value because it is frozen in time and too remote from life. In both modern and classic literature, language serves mainly as a support for psychology and the characters are more important than the action happening on stage. The "masterpieces" of theater literature are flawed because they were written for another era, thus forcing both the spectators and the actors to linger in the past.

The author then describes a new, completely remodeled form of theater which he calls the "Theater of Cruelty." He insists that the real theater must touch the senses before it touches the minds. This means that the director (or "metteur en scène") will have to use every mean at his disposal. Artaud's intent is to create a new theatrical language which would allow the director to work as a creator instead of a translator of the author. Artaud then gives an example of a play in which such a new theatrical play could be involved ("The Conquest of Mexico.") His theory is based on the Oriental version of theater, and more specifically the Balinese Theater. Such a theater relies heavily on the usage of hieroglyphs, which use abstract figures to convey concrete meanings.

The Theater of Cruelty is developed by Artaud to allow the staging of great metaphysical conflicts. This staging can only be accomplished through a great deal of intellectual and political violence. However, theater as an art can only rely on physical means (movements, lights, voice, etc.), so it has to reach the spectator's mind by acting in the physical world. Because this violence playing on the stage is faked, there is no real danger for the spectator to translate it into the real world. What Artaud calls "cruelty" is the awakening of the great yet forgotten, dark myths of humanity, because these myths will keep haunting the human mind long after the curtains fell. The problem tackled by The Theater and its Double is not about remaking theater's classic texts, but remaking theater itself.

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