Antonin Artaud Biography

(French Writer, Theatre Director and One of the Major Figures of the European Avant-Garde)

Birthday: September 4, 1896 (Virgo)

Born In: Marseille, France

Antonin Artaud was a playwright for very few plays during his lifetime, but he exercised a considerable amount of influence with his small collection of works. He was a great French playwright and also became known for his theoretical writings. He was briefly involved with the Surrealist movement in the early years of his career, which influenced a number of his works. He decided very early on that a new type of theatre was required, thereby transfiguring his famous, ‘Theater of Cruelty’ idea, which added importance on manuscript and on the primordial expressions of movement, light and sound combined. His plays were usually centered on human behavior and raw human emotions, many of which were jeered at and even dismissed by a number of people. Apart from being as a playwright, he was also an actor, artist, designer and director. He was also a prolific writer and contributed regularly to periodicals like the journal, ‘Litterature’. Some of his significant pieces of work include, ‘Art and Death and ‘The Theatre and its Double’, through which he forwarded the ideas for the creation of a new genre of theatre, that he hoped would change the perceptions of the-then theatrical experiences.

Quick Facts

French Celebrities Born In September

Also Known As: Antoine Marie Joseph Paul Artaud

Died At Age: 51


father: Antoine-Roi Artaud

mother: Euphrasie Nalpas

Born Country: France

Quotes By Antonin Artaud Poets

Died on: March 4, 1948

place of death: Ivry-sur-Seine, France

Cause of Death: Colorectal Cancer

Notable Alumni: Studied At The Collège Du Sacré-Cœur

Ancestry: Greek French

City: Marseille, France

More Facts

education: Studied At The Collège Du Sacré-Cœur

  • 1

    What impact did Antonin Artaud have on the theater world?

    Antonin Artaud is known for his revolutionary ideas on theater, particularly his concept of the "Theater of Cruelty." His work inspired a new approach to performance art that focused on shocking and engaging the audience on a visceral level.

  • 2

    What mental health struggles did Antonin Artaud face?

    Antonin Artaud struggled with mental illness throughout his life, which greatly influenced his artistic work. He was diagnosed with various conditions, including schizophrenia, and spent time in psychiatric hospitals.

  • 3

    How did Antonin Artaud's experiences influence his writing?

    Antonin Artaud drew heavily from his own personal experiences, including his struggles with mental illness and time spent in psychiatric institutions, in his writing. His works often explore themes of madness, alienation, and the search for a deeper truth.

  • 4

    Why was Antonin Artaud considered a controversial figure in his time?

    Antonin Artaud's unconventional ideas and avant-garde approach to theater made him a controversial figure during his lifetime. His work challenged traditional notions of performance and often pushed boundaries, leading to both admiration and criticism.

Childhood & Early Life
Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud was born to Euphrasie Nalpas and Antoine-Roi Artaud in Marseille, France.
At the age of four, he suffered from meningitis, which ultimately gave him an edgy, short-tempered personality throughout his adolescence. He also suffered from stammering problems and clinical depression.
In 1916, he was drafted into the French Army and was allegedly discharged due to sleepwalking. After he was discharged, he was admitted to a sanatorium for a while. During this time, he read the works of Arthur Rimbaud and Edgar Allan Poe.
In 1920, after being discharged from the sanatorium, he moved to Paris, to pursue a career as a writer. It was there that he realized his passion for experimental theatre.
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In 1921, he contributed articles to periodicals like ‘Litterature’ and became a leading face of the Surrealist group. He would also edit issues of other top Surrealist magazines during this time.
During his stay in Paris, he trained with directors like Charles Dullin and Georges Pitoeff and wrote both, poetry and essays. In 1927, he also did a small role in ‘Napoleon’ as Jean-Paul Marat.
He developed a great interest for cinema as well and hence, wrote the setting for the first Surrealist film of his career, ‘The Seashell and the Clergyman’, in 1928. The same year, he appeared in his first film, ‘Passion of Joan of Arc’, in which he did a small role
He witnessed a traditional Balinese dance performance for the first time in 1931 at the Paris Colonial Exposition. This one performance went on to influence many of his ideas for theatre.
The same year, the ‘First Manifesto for a Theatre of Cruelty’ was published in ‘La Nouvelle Revue Francaise’. In 1935, his production of Shelley’s, ‘The Cenci’, premiered. The play failed commercially, but it became known because it used the Ondes Martenot, an electronic instrument for the first time.
In 1936, he travelled to Mexico, where he studied and lived with the Tarahumaran people. Two years later, his best-known work, ‘The Theatre and Its Double’ was published. It was one of the two books that contained the two manifestos of ‘The Theatre of Cruelty’.
In the final years of his life, he spent his time in various asylums and a psychiatric hospital in Rodez. In 1946, he was released from the hospital; and was admitted to a psychiatric clinic in Ivry-sur-Seine.
In 1947, he recorded ‘Pour en Finir avec le Jugement de dieu’, which was shelved and was to be broadcast on radio. It was broadcasted only thirty years later.
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Major Works
‘The Theatre and its Double’ was released in 1938 and is largely considered his magnum opus because it attacked standard dramatic conventions. It was one of the two manuscripts that outlined the ideology of the ‘Theatre of Cruelty’. The collection is still widely used to this day and has strongly influenced the directing attitudes of renowned figures such as Peter Brook. It is also included in ‘Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century’.
Personal Life & Legacy
In January 1948, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and succumbed to it three months later on 4 March 1948 at a psychiatric clinic. It was also suspected that he died from a poisonous dose of the drug, chloral hydrate.
He has been mentioned in popular culture time and again. For instance, the band ‘Motley Cr�e’ named the ‘Theatre of Pain’ after reading his bid for the ‘Theatre of Cruelty’. He also influenced Argentinian hard rock band, who named one of their albums ‘Artaud’ after him.
John Zorn, the composer, composed six different records in Artaud’s honor.
The ‘Living Theatre’ is also heavily influenced by Artaud. There are plays such as ‘Artaud at Rodez’ and the novel, ‘Yo-You Boing!’ that have mentioned his name.
He had a wide influence on philosophers such as Felix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze.
Facts About Antonin Artaud

Antonin Artaud was known for his eccentric behavior, which included wearing strange costumes and makeup during his performances.

He was a strong advocate for the use of hallucinogenic drugs as a means of expanding consciousness and creativity.

Artaud was fascinated by the intersection of language and performance, often experimenting with nonsensical or surreal forms of expression.

He believed in the power of art to provoke emotional and psychological responses in the audience, aiming to create a visceral experience rather than a rational one.

Artaud's writing style was highly poetic and abstract, reflecting his interest in the subconscious mind and the surreal aspects of human experience.

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