The Theatre and Its Double

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The Theatre and Its Double (Le Théâtre et son Double) is a collection of essays by French poet and playwright Antonin Artaud. It contains his most famous works on the theatre, including his manifestos for a Theatre of Cruelty.

Composition and publication history[edit]

The Theatre and Its Double was originally published 1 February 1938 as part of Gallimard's Métamorpheses Collection in an edition limited to 400 copies.[1]:51 The books consists of Artaud's collected essays on theatre dating from the early thirties, many of which were published in Nouvelle Revue Française (NRF). Artaud was in "a near catatonic state in the mental hospital of Sainte-Anne" in Paris when the book was finally published.[1]:51 He had been able to correct the text's proofs between his journeys to Ireland and Mexico.[1]:104

Chronological release[edit]

'On the Balinese Theatre' (1931)[edit]

Part 1 was published as 'The Balinese Theatre at the Colonial Exhibition' in NRF (no. 217, Oct. 1931).[2]: 106

'Production and Metaphysics' (1932)[edit]

Originally presented as a lecture at the Sorbonne (10 Dec 1932). Published in NRF (no. 221, 1st Feb. 1932).[2]: 105

'Alchemist Theatre'/'El teatro alquemico' (1932)[edit]

Published in Spanish in the Buenos Aires-based magazine Sur (no. 6, Sept. 1932).[2]: 106

'The Theatre of Cruelty' (1932)[edit]

Published in NRF (no. 229, 1st Oct. 1932).[2]: 105

'Second Manifesto of The Theatre of Cruelty' (1932)[edit]

Originally published as a sixteen-page booklet by Éditions Denoël (Fontenay-Au-Roses, 1933).[2]: 111

'Theatre and the plague' (1933)[edit]

Originally presented as a lecture at the Sorbonne (6 April 1933), it was revised and published in NRF (no. 253, 1st Oct. 1934).[2]: 105

Artaud developed the essay while undergoing acupuncture therapy. He was 'surprised and amazed' at how the treatment pinpointed 'with precision and remarkable accuracy the deep, debilitating and demoralizing troubles that have afflicted [him] for so long', something he related to 'the "exteriorization" of "latent cruelty" causing the "organic disorder" (OC 4: 33) in plague-victims'.[3]


Artaud intended his work as an attack on theatrical convention and the importance of language of drama, opposing the vitality of the viewer's sensual experience against theatre as a contrived literary form, and urgency of expression against complacency on the part of the audience.[citation needed]

In No More Masterpieces, Artaud attacks what he believed to be the elitism of an irrelevant, outdated literary/theatrical canon.[citation needed]

Artaud expressed the importance of recovering "the notion of a kind of unique language half-way between gesture and thought".[citation needed]

English translation and influence[edit]

The first English edition of The Theatre and Its Double was translated by M.C. Richards and published by Grove Press in 1958. Richards encountered Artaud's name in Jean-Louis Barrault's memoir Reflections on the Theatre (1951).[4]:35 Prior to beginning the translation, Richards had collaborated in a close reading of the text with John Cage and David Tudor at Black Mountain College. Cage credited this close reading as the impetus for Theater Piece No.1, a 1951 performance art event regarded as the first Happening.[citation needed] Participants included Robert Rauschenberg, Charles Olson, David Tudor and Merce Cunningham.[citation needed] Afterwards, Tudor encouraged Richards to begin translating the text.[5]

Richards' translation introduced Artaud to the avant-garde scene in America, and is still considered to be the definitive English translation of the text.[6] It is still read, and strongly influenced the directing philosophies of such renowned avant-garde and contemporary groups and figures as Peter Brook, The Living Theatre, The Open Theatre[6] and La Mama's Great Jones Repertory Company, most notably in their production of The Trojan Women directed by Andrei Serban and composed by Elizabeth Swados.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Esslin, Martin (2018-01-01). Antonin Artaud. Alma Books. ISBN 978-0-7145-4562-2.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Esslin, Martin (2018), Antonin Artaud, Alma Books, ISBN 9780714545622
  3. ^ Gardner, Tony (2003). "Breathing's Hieroglyphics: Deciphering Artaud's 'Affective Athleticism'". Performance Research. 8 (2): 109–116. doi:10.1080/13528165.2003.10871934. ISSN 1352-8165. S2CID 192732489.
  4. ^ Richards, Mary Caroline (1996). Opening Our Moral Eye: Essays, Talks & Poems Embracing Creativity & Community. SteinerBooks. ISBN 978-0-940262-78-2.
  5. ^ Richards, Mary Caroline. M.C. Richards : centering : life + art -- 100 years. ISBN 978-1-5323-0998-4. OCLC 958078561.
  6. ^ a b "Living a Making: Source in the Literary Work of M.C. Richards by Julia Connor". BMCS. Retrieved 2020-03-28.
  7. ^ Johnson, Judith E. (2008). "What Is Is When There's No There There: The Liebermann Catalog as Liminal Space". TechKnowledgies: New Imaginaries in the Humanities, Arts, and TechnoSciences – via Cambridge Scholars Publishing.