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B I B L I O

G R A P H Y
History of Theatre of Cruelty
Wikipedia. Theatre of Cruelty. Retrieved 24/02/19 from
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_of_Cruelty
Encyclopedia Britannica. Theatre of Cruelty | Experimental
Theatre. Retrieved 01/03/19 from
https://www.britannica.com/topic/Theatre-of-Cruelty
The British Library. Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty.
Retrieved 04/03/19 from https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-
literature/articles/antonin-artaud-and-the-theatre-of-cruelty

Conventions
Thedramateacher.com. Theatre of Cruelty Conventions. Retrieved
27/02/19 from https://thedramateacher.com/theatre-of-cruelty-
conventions
Wikipedia. Theatre of Cruelty. Retrieved 01/03/19 from
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theatre_of_Cruelty

Antonin Artaud
Biography.com. Antonin Artaud. Retrieved 24/02/19 from
https://www.biography.com/people/antonin-artaud-9189906
The British Library. Antonin Artaud and the Theatre of Cruelty.
Retrieved 24/02/19 from https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-
literature/articles/antonin-artaud-and-the-theatre-of-cruelty
Bohemian Ink. Antonin Artaud. Retrieved 27/02/19 from
http://www.levity.com/corduroy/artaud.htm
Hubert, Arnaud. Antonin Artaud. Retrieved 02/03/19 from
http://www.antoninartaud.org/home.html
Bermel, Albert. Artaud's Theater of Cruelty. New York: Taplinger,
1977.

Jet of Blood & Les Cenci


Woodhead, C. (2006, September 25). Jet Of Blood. Retrieved
27/02/19 from https://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/art-and-
design/jet-of-blood-20060925-ge37e3.html
Stein, Leila. (2016, July 05). Les Cenci. Retrieved 03/03/19 from
http://cuemedia.co.za/2016/07/05/les-cenci-methods-of-madness
Alyssa Carmen Che Chiara Spencer

T H E A T
R E
O F
C R U E L
T Y
L E S C E N C I
Originally a five-act Italian play (although the length
of one act), “Les Cenci” was written by Percy Bysshe
Shelley in 1815. It was then reinvented by Artaud in
1935. However, Artaud’s interpretation was viewed as far
too graphic and disturbing for the eyes of the general
public. Therefore it only ran for a total of 17 shows
before being forced to close down. The show is often
referred to as being unspeakably gruesome, as it is
perhaps one of the most undiluted examples of true
Theatre of Cruelty that exists.

(above L-R) early productions of “Jet of Blood” and “Les Cenci”.

(above L-R) modern interpretations of “Jet of Blood” and “Les


Cenci”.
J E T O F B L O O D
There are a great deal many plays that include
conventions of Theatre of Cruelty, however very few tend
to fall under the theatre style entirely. The few that do
are often short, strange, and incredibly excessive in
their inclusion of graphic images and stylised violence.
Practitioner Antonin Artaud wrote “Jet of Blood” in 1925,
later declaring it the first play to be written in the
style of Theatre of Cruelty. The play generally lasts for
a total of four to five minutes in total.

The story begins with a Young Man and Young Woman sitting
close together, talking romantically. A Knight and a
‘Wet-Nurse’ enter. It is implied they are the parents of
the Young Man and Young Woman. The Wet-Nurse sobs as she
exclaims that the Young Man and Young Woman are screwing.
They run off stage. The set changes and the Young Man
runs into the town square, searching for his wife. He
interacts with many townsfolk. Suddenly, a large hand
appears from the sky and grabs a prostitute by her hair.
The hand screams at her, “Bitch! Look at your body.” The
prostitute bites the hand and everyone dies except the
young man and herself. She orgasms and falls into his
arms. The Knight and Wet-Nurse reappear on stage, the
nurse is holding the Young Woman in her arms. She falls
to the ground, dropping the Young Woman. The knight
blocks his eyes as scorpions scuttle out from under her
dress, her vagina glistens and splits in half, becoming
transparent. The Young Woman sits up and exclaims, “The
Virgin! That’s what he was looking for.” It is here that
the show ends.

KNIGHT: Let go of your tits. Give me my papers. KNIGHT: Quiet, there's no girl there.

WET-NURSE: [Screaming in high-pitch] Ah! Ah! WET-NURSE: I'm telling you they're screwing.

KNIGHT: Damn, what's the matter with you? KNIGHT: What do I care if they're screwing?

WET-NURSE: Our daughter, there, with him. WET-NURSE: Incest.

(above) an excerpt from “Jet of Blood” (1925)


❖ Focus on text was significantly reduced
❖ Ritualistic movement was a key element often
replacing words
❖ Communicated stories through signs (facial
expression and movement)
❖ Emphasis on improvisation rather than scripts
❖ Stylised movement - visual poetry
❖ Movement often created violent and disturbing
images on stage
❖ Dance and movement were just as important as
words
❖ Preference for actors to perform around the
audience (rectangle/ring)

C O N V E N T I O N S

❖ Attempted to reduce or eliminate space between


actors and audience
❖ Audience seated in swivel chairs
❖ Emphasis on lighting and sound
❖ Sound was often loud and piercing
❖ Audience’s senses were “assaulted”
❖ Emphasis on music and sound
❖ Sets were eliminated
❖ Dismissed modern costumes
❖ Some projections/films
❖ Oversized puppets
❖ Stun the audience’s senses and immerse them
fully in the theatrical experience
A N T O N I N
A R T A U D
Known solely for his work establishing and later
developing the Theatre of Cruelty, Artaud lived a
relatively short and undeniably calamitous life. He
was 5 years old when he suffered his first extreme
health problem, a near-fatal attack of meningitis.
This set him down a rocky path adorned with
countless serious medical issues. In his teenage
years he suffered neurasthenia, which was to be
treated with opium in order to alleviate the pain.
Much in accordance with a modern understanding of
the drug’s effects, Artaud soon developed a severe
addiction, which later declared him unable to fight
in the army in 1918. In the later years of his life
he was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and spent a
decade moving through several mental institutions.
He died of cancer at the age of 52.

Artaud’s interest with the absurd and the extreme


was first sparked by his early involvement in the
surrealist movement. In 1923 and 1925 respectively,
after spending a few years studying the concept of
surrealism, he published two separate volumes
inspired by the great surrealists he looked up to:
Mallarmé, Verlaine, and Rimbaud. The latter of
these volumes contained, amongst an assortment of
letters, poems in prose, and sporadic chunks of
dialogue, Artaud’s first complete work – “Le Jet de
sang” (“The Jet of Blood”). The playlet, which was
no more than five minutes in length, was at long
last published separately and premiered in 1964.
Artaud broke with the surrealist movement soon
after publishing “L'Ombilic des limbes”, deciding
that his views on theatre were unique enough that
they could be fashioned into a theatrical style of
their own. After years of consolidating his views
in volumes discussing dramatic theory, as well as
writing and producing works that he thought
sufficiently depicted his Theatre of Cruelty, he
was able to coin the style and reference it
repeatedly in his later texts.

In his own words, “the Theatre of Cruelty has been


created in order to restore to the theatre a
passionate and convulsive conception of life, and
it is in this sense of violent rigor and extreme
condensation of scenic elements that the cruelty on
which it has been based must be understood. This
cruelty, which will be bloody when necessary but
not systematically so, can thus be identified with
a kind of severe moral purity which is not afraid
to pay life the price it must be payed.”

(above) Antonin Artaud, theatre practitioner.