Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 July 2021
W. B. Yeats began with the view that the theatre should offend what he called 'the regular theatre goer', but during his time with the Irish Literary Theatre (later the Abbey), he came to understand that the energy and bank of imagery that an audience brought to the theatre could constitute the life of the performance. He thus came to understand the audience as both the origin and the destination of performance. For Yeats, the audience were the origin of the performance, in that they shared and produced the collective pool of images from which his theatre drew. At the same time, he also understood the theatre in magical terms akin to those of the writings of Artaud, in which precisely chosen actions and words had the power to influence a much wider population. This understanding of theatre developed originally in the context of his engagement with Irish nationalism in the early 1900s, but continued throughout his life, ultimately producing an understanding of the spectator that stands with the writings of Artaud in its originality and radicalism.