Antonin Artaud Biography

Antonin Artaud was one of the most influential playwrights of the 20th century. Go through this biography to learn more about his profile, childhood, life and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: September 4, 1896

Nationality: French

Famous: Quotes By Antonin Artaud Playwrights

Died At Age: 51

Sun Sign: Virgo

Also Known As: Antoine Marie Joseph Artaud

Born in: Marseille, France

Famous as: Dramatist, Poet, Essayist, Actor, & Theatre Director


father: Antoine-Roi Artaud

mother: Euphrasie Nalpas

Died on: March 4, 1948

place of death: Paris, France

Diseases & Disabilities: Depression, Schizophrenia, Stammered / Stuttered

City: Marseille, France

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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.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • 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.
  • The character ‘Lee Toric’ in the television series, ‘Sons of Anarchy’ was seen reading this famous French playwright’s novel, ‘Watchfields & Rack Screams’ in an episode of Season 5.

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