Date of Award

5-2011

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Major

English

Major Professor

Stanton B. Garner, Jr.

Committee Members

Mary E. Papke, Amy Billone

Abstract

Churchill’s plays incorporate intensity, complexity, and imagination to create a theatrical landscape that is rich in danger and possibility. Examining her plays through the theoretical lens of Antonin Artaud’s “theater of cruelty” allows an open investigation into the way that violence, transgression, and theatricality function in her work to create powerful and thought-provoking pieces of theatre. By creating her own contemporary “theater of cruelty,” Churchill creates plays that actively and violently transgress physical, social, and political boundaries.

This paper examines three of Churchill’s plays spanning over thirty years of her career to investigate the different ways Churchill has used concepts of Artaudian cruelty to layer and complicate the theatrical experience, and each offers a different vision of a modern “theater of cruelty.” A Mouthful of Birds provides a starting point for exploring Artaudian concepts in connection to her work and uses physical, embodied cruelty as a catalyst through which the characters must come to terms with their subjectivity in a system which has allocated their rightful “place” in society. Hotel incorporates the same magnitude of cruelty into everyday rituals and mundane actions, and an Artaudian reading reveals the way in which an ‘invisible’ cruelty acts on both the characters and the audience as a form of erasure through which the “vanished” characters “signal through the flames” in an attempt to re-assert their subjectivity. In Seven Jewish Children, Churchill inverts the cruelty and re-enacts onstage the Artaudian ‘double’ of the terror occurring during the Gaza conflict in order to force the characters and audience into a direct relationship with the cruelty. Using Artaud as a framework through which to investigate Churchill’s work foregrounds the way in which the interplay of cruelty rips apart the commonly accepted cultural norms on which our understanding of the world is based and opens complex and multi-faceted possibilities of interpretation and understanding that are absolutely necessary for investigating the intensity of the theatrical experience in her plays.

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