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Artaud and Brecht Comparison. Woyzeck by Buchner

Undoubtedly, theater is great art serving vital purposes; however, these purposes can vary. In order to explain them, it is necessary to resort to the recognized authorities in the field. The analysis of the concepts of theater by Artaud and Brecht promises nontrivial results due to their different philosophical grounds since the first critic emerged out of the Data and Surrealist movements while the critical views of the second critic originated from Expressionistic and Epic-Political theater movements. The present paper will be devoted the comparison of the unique interpretations of the concept of theater as a tool for awakening of feelings (Artaud), human nature, and critical thinking (Brecht). The practical application of the theories of “theater of cruelty” by Artaud and “epic theater” by Brecht using the play Woyzeck by Butcher will show that different theoretical grounds influence all aspects of staging of the play, changing its flow and manner of presentation according to the declared purposes of theater.

Every theory is aimed at the explanation of the purpose of theater and organization of theater to serve its main purpose with high efficiency. Artaud defines the main purpose of the theater as “the alarm clock of humanity”, it should be aimed at the awakening of humanity, its “nerves and heart” (Artaud 84). Theater should be able to dominate the time that is instable now and defined by the critic as “catastrophic” (Artaud 84). The main aim of the theater, from the point of view of Artaud, is to break the shield of civilization that covers humanity and to reveal and release a person’s subconsciousness, fears and desires. In order to get at the main function of theater as Artaud sees it, it is necessary to explain the world “double” he makes use of: theater should create another form of reality of life, this is the core of his concept of theater.

The theory of epic theater, introduced by Brecht, differs fundamentally from the theory offered by Artaud, and the primary difference lies in the purpose ascribed by Brecht to theater. Brecht states that theater should represent and report about some happenings in human life with a view to entertainment (Brecht 180). He states that the spectator should be distanced and detached from the action that takes place on the stage, for the spectator should be able to analyze the situation critically and this will enable the spectators to make definite conclusions pertaining to society they live in. Theater, in his opinion, should be an awakener of human curiosity and shock that will show people the necessity of change of society. Thus, theater as presented by both authors is an awakener, but in case of Artaud, it is an awakener of human subcosciousness and in case of Brecht, it is an awakener of critical thinking and active action aimed at the restructuring of society. If Artaud’s theater appeals to human nature, Brecht’s theater appeals to human reason.

It is necessary to tackle the acting in the theaters by Artaud and Brecht as they differ greatly. Brecht states that empathy and self-identification of an actor with the character is admissible and can even be indulged in rehearsals but should be strictly avoided during the performance. Brecht treats observation as the main part of acting (196). He says that the actor should avoid pure imitation, it is unnecessary and even vulgar, he should reconsider the action of the original through his own prism as the original says what it has to say with subdued voice that needs intensification (Brecht 196). In order to act well, an actor should watch the people “as though they were playing him their actions” or as if they asked him to analyze their actions (Brecht 196). Besides, an actor as described by Brecht should possess knowledge in order not to be a puppet but a reliable character. The critic also notices the importance of attitude between characters as a necessary part of acting and he calls it “the realm of gest” (Brecht 198). Thus, in order to act as it is demanded by epic theatre, an actor should not build an illusion of reality, it is inadmissible, instead of this, he should present critical view of the character. Brecht makes his actors be believable but without merging with a character that can be achieved, for instance, by breaking “the fourth wall” and playing several roles by the same actor.

The actor in Artaud’s theater of cruelty should be the medium between the action and the spectator. His main duty is to create the impression of a dream, this is why the actors can use spoken language only to the extent it finds its realization in dreams (Artaud 94). In fact, the actors in the theater of cruelty had to rely on their emotions and five senses instead of words. Thus, the critic approved of such elements of acting as cries, groans, apparitions, movements, gestures. It means that an actor should become the embodiment of action himself.

Touching upon staging and design of the theaters, Brecht emphasized the necessity of harsh white light on the stage no matter which place and time of action was implied. This would make the spectators aware of the artificiality of the action. The same idea would serve songs inserted into the action and the projection of explanatory captions that would inform the audience of the events before they occur. As for Artaud, he wanted to make light subjected to music, it should represent feelings. He also ascribes vital role to music in the action and states that it is necessary to invent new musical instruments for theater.

As for the similarities of the theaters of the analyzed critics, let us state that they both want to rebuild traditional theater. First, both of them wanted it to become accessible to common people. Second, they revised the relationship between the audience and the action taking place on the stage.

Moving on the practical application of the theories, it is necessary to state that the versions of Woyzeck by Brecht and Artaud would differ considerably. In Artud’s Woyzeck, there would be no set (97). It would be replaced by grotesque costumes showing the inner world of the characters as inner world is the focus of Artaud’s theater of cruelty. Brecht would offer traditional modern costumes.

As it has been mentioned above, Brecht would maintain bright light throughout the play, even in Scene XIV that takes place at night (Buchner 127). He would also provide explanatory captions, for instance, the caption to Scene I can be as follows: “Woyzech is shaving the Captain. Captain humiliates him” (Buchner 109-110). This move would maintain the distance between the action and reality implied by the theory.

Both authors would resort to music in their versions. Still, Brecht would, probably, extend Andres’ songs (Butcher 111) and add Marie and Woyzeck’s songs. Besides, Woyzeck would sing after his hallucinations or, most probably, other characters would sing, for instance, Brecht would add some minor character in scene XII that shows Woyzeck’s fit of madness. That could be a mere passerby singing. Artaud would support Woyzeck’s hallucinations with strange music, resembling simple clusters of sounds. The music would become the embodiment of subconsciousness which the theorist intends to awaken.

As for Artaund, he would cut out greater part of the text, focusing on the episodes showing emotions. For instance, he would keep Scene XIII and he would make Woyzeck act with special emphasis on his gestures, screams, etc. Brecht’s Woyzeck would act as it is stated in the script but he the actor would address to the audience in the end, asking them to think about Woyzeck’s madness.

Finally, Brecht’s play would take place on a usual stage, while Artaud would place the audience in the center, probably, using swivel chairs, and the action would take place around the spectators.

Though practical application of both theories would result in interesting versions of the original play by Buchner, it is possible to suggest which theory would create a more harmonious interpretation of the original. The theory of epic theater would preserve the greater part of the original version of the play enhancing Butcher’s implications. For instance, the original Woyzeck contains many songs; additional songs included by Brecht would seem natural in the flow of the play. As it has been mentioned above, Artaud would bring numerous alterations and abridgements of the text that would be admissible but would alter the original version too much.

Drawing a conclusion, it is possible to state that both critics would bring considerable changes to the play by Butcher. However, both of them would emphasize the themes implied by the original author: poverty, suffering, madness, violence, animal nature of humans. At the same time, Brecht would emphasize the first theme while Artaud would focus on the last one and the last but one. The setting, light, music, and costumes would differ a lot depending on the function the critics attribute to them.

Works Cited

Artaud, Antonin. The Theater and Its Double. NY: Grove Press, 1958.

Brecht, Bertolt, and John Willet. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic. USA: Hill and Wang, 1964.

Buchner, Georg. Woyzneck. Clinton, MA: Colonial Press, 1963.


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