Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Stanton B. Garner Jr.

Committee Members

Misty G. Anderson, Lisi Schoenbach, John Sipes


Vast changes in technology during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries fundamentally altered the way living bodies related to the machines they increasingly encountered in everyday life. One consequence of this shift was a preoccupation with questions about bodily agency and creative authority that would continue into the modern era. While artists of all kinds engaged with these issues, the theatre proved uniquely suited to addressing the relationship between living bodies and their mechanical environments by not only cultivating a theoretical understanding of the relationship between live bodies and mechanism, but also necessitating the practical enactment of this relationship.

Modern theatre artists such as Alfred Jarry, Karel Čapek, Sophie Treadwell, and Jean Cocteau juxtaposed live and mechanical bodies onstage in unique ways to test the possibilities for and limits of these new relationships between man and machine. Focusing on plays and theatrical experiments that put human bodies in the roles of machine or mechanized bodies, this project invites us to reconsider the common reading of these works, which views mechanical bodies (such as puppets, automatons, and robots) as mediating human experience and, ultimately, displacing human bodies. I argue instead that the modern theatrical focus on mechanism purposefully directs attention to the role of the live performing body, which is still physically present even when it has been metaphorically or representationally subsumed. I examine how the swiftly changing landscape of modern theatre proceeds from earlier dramatic experiments in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by showing how modern theatre artists appropriate earlier theatrical vocabularies to further the conversation in new and complex ways.

The modern theatre, then, became a practical laboratory in which different possibilities for the negotiation between the mechanical body and the human body were staged. By considering what happens when humans are inexorably physically present in the confrontation between man and machine, I argue that performing bodies on the modern stage are not mediated by mechanisms; rather, they enact a drama of mediation in which the live performing body negotiates between the material and physical requirements of both live and mechanical bodies before a living audience.

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