Theatre Ph.D. Dissertations


Rethinking Artaud's Theoretical and Practical Works

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Theatre and Film

First Advisor

Scott Magelssen, PhD

Second Advisor

Jonathan Chambers, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Bradford Clark, MFA (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Amy Morgan, PhD (Committee Member)


This study aims to counter the claims that Artaud was a practical failure and his theoretical writings had little value for theatre practice during his time. I instead argue that Artaud’s body of work shows his dedication to creating a theatre style that would differ drastically from the styles dominating French theatre. I use Artaud’s original texts to determine his Theatre of Cruelty aesthetics and to highlight how much of his work holds practical as well as theoretical value. By doing this, I argue that Artaud’s practical capabilities in theatre should be properly acknowledged and his theoretical contributions be viewed for their applicability to production. This study continues the work of Artaud scholars such as Kimberly Jannarone who have challenged previous portrayals of Artaud by earlier scholars as a failed theatre artist whose theoretical writings are more emblematic of his mental illness than of any practical sensibilities. This study addresses and challenges many of the widely held notions about Artaud concerning his practical works as well as his essays on the plague, cruelty, and non-Western ritual. I argue that while these writings may seem to be disconnected writings, they may be directly connected to practical theatrical concerns. To make these claims, I examine Artaud’s work at the Alfred Jarry Theatre to demonstrate the ways in which aspects of his developing theatre aesthetic are foreshadowed in his practical work while there. I then look at the ways that Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty manifestos can be seen at work in his production of Les Cenci, the only full-length play that he wrote. I connect his writings on “plague” and “cruelty” to established performance tropes and show how Artaud used both of these terms to describe the functionality of his new theatre. Finally, I compare the Balinese dance dramas Artaud witnessed at the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition to his Manifestos on Cruelty to show how Artaud’s arguably unstageable theories had, as a matter of fact, been staged through these performances.