Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

After he had completed his play Les Cenci (1935; The Cenci, 1969), Antonin Artaud conceived of the idea of collecting his writings on theater into a book that would outline his vision for a new kind of theater. Despite his failure to realize his vision in his production of The Cenci, Artaud continued to prepare new articles for his book and to crystallize his thinking on theater as he journeyed to Mexico to investigate the ritual performances of the Indians. In mid-voyage, Artaud settled on The Theater and Its Double as the title for his seminal work on theater, and he proofed the final copy upon his return to France. Artaud was an erratic genius plagued by a lifelong mental illness, to which he finally succumbed. By the time The Theater and Its Double was printed in 1938, Artaud had been institutionalized and remained so until 1946.

The Theater and Its Double is a collection of visionary essays, heated lectures, formal manifestos, defensive letters, and insightful reviews. All the works were written between 1931 and 1936. Some of them had already appeared in periodicals and pamphlets or had been delivered as lectures, while others were written specifically for publication in book form. Artaud himself arranged the order of the works, ignoring the chronological sequence in which they were written.

Although the book is by no means the work of a systematic thinker, it does have a loosely defined shape, moving from generalities to specifics. First, it discusses the metaphysical foundations for Artaud’s plans to reform theater; then it shows how those plans would be put into action. In his preface, “The Theater and Culture,” Artaud notes the demise of Western culture and its inability to confront the crucial needs of the modern individual. Because culture is impotent and ineffectual, Artaud...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Bermel, Albert. Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, 1977.

Costich, Julia F. Antonin Artaud, 1978.

Esslin, Martin. Antonin Artaud, 1976.

Greene, Naomi. Antonin Artaud: Poet Without Words, 1970.

Hayman, Ronald. Artaud and After, 1977.

Knapp, Bettina. Antonin Artaud: Man of Vision, 1969.

Sellin, Eric. The Dramatic Concepts of Antonin Artaud, 1968.