1896 play by the infamous playwright Alfred Jarry

Cowardly Père Ubu is egged on by his wife to murder the royal family. He becomes king of Poland and establishes a reign of terror before being defeated by the Tsar and forced into exile. The events take place in a crazy never-never land, tempo is rapid. Characters move through the story like some monstruous puppets on an attack on existing moral and aesthetic values.Theatre of the Absurd

When this play was first performed Jarry was quite popular in Literary Paris. They were all there for opening night: F.T.Marinetti, Ezra Pound, Guillaume Apollinaire. Almost from the first word of the play "Merdre" the audience began an uproar of reaction that culminated in a riot. There were literally fist fights among the audience members. The play had a second night and then closed. But Jarry's name was all over Paris.

It is one of a series of three Ubu Plays. The other two being Ubu Enchaine and Ubu Cocu


Sources: http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/ajarry.htm Jarry, Alfred, "Visits of Love", Atlas Press, London 1994 Jarry, Alfred, "The Ubu Plays", Grove Press, NY 1969 Last Updated 04.07.04

With Ubu Roi, Jarry anticipates pretty much everything we find funny nowadays, and the character of Pa Ubu was perhaps the greatest example of a brand new archetype before the arrival of Homer Simpson. The play is rarely performed as originally written, but has given rise to countless adaptations. I contributed one of these, called Ubu Dane.

Ubu Roi, by Alfred Henri Jarry, is absurd and hilarious. Invite your friends over for dinner and have them take a role and read the lines -- you won't be sorry you did. At the very least, depending on the translation, you can get a good British urchin accent out of them.

Ubu Roi was a project begun by Jarry at age 15, growing out of a little skit he wrote with some friends to make fun of one of his teachers. It was originally dubbed The Poles, and as Jarry fleshed it out, it became King Ubu. The play was variously performed by puppets and people; the first performance of the play by live actors in 1896 in Paris caused an incredible scandal (the first word of the play is merdre, a deliberate bastardization of the French word merde (shit). It reportedly took several minutes for the crowd to calm down enough for the performance to continue, though many of the audience departed the theatre immediately.

Ubu Roi is sort of a puppetized parody of Shakespeare's tragedy MacBeth. The plot involves a bumpkin (Pa Ubu) whose wife persuades him to oust the good king from the throne. Pa Ubu becomes a tyrant and is later deposed by the good king's son who had managed to escape the initial massacre. In the end, Pa Ubu gives up his claims on the throne and sails off with his wife and some cronies in exile to 'Engelland'. There are elements of Ubu Roi that are entirely original, and moreover, its unleashing had wide-ranging consequences on turn-of-the-century literature in Europe.

The play is set in Poland, but Jarry's "Poland" is really just a word for "nowhere at all" -- a surreal, nonexistent realm of uncertain latitude populated by complete fools. On top of that, a running joke in Ubu Roi is that the French word pologne refers also to a particularly phallic type of sausage. In the translation to British English by Kenneth McLeish, 'Poland' has been translated to 'Baloney', to accurately reflect Jarry's comic meaning. The text below will probably seem very odd to an American, but may be funnier to someone from the UK (indeed, perhaps someone familiar with British comedy would be willing to take a stab at 'translating' this to American slang?)

Dramatis Personae

PA UBU
MA UBU
DOGPILE
GOOD KING WENCESLAS
QUEEN ROSAMOND
PRINCE WILLY
PRINCE SILLY
PRINCE BILLIKINS
BIG BAD BERNIE
WALLOP
McCLUB
FAST FREDDIE
NORBERT NURDLE
TSAR ALEXIS OF ALL THE RUSSKIES
NICK NACKERLEY
GENERAL CUSTARD
MAJOR F. FORT
BEAR

Barmpots, bankers, cashhounds, chaps, citizens, clerks, councillors, flunkeys, ghosts, guards, judges, messengers, nobs, partisans, seafarers, soldiers, turnkeys.


Here's a short quote to give you an idea of what this play is like (Act I, Scene vii):

PA UBU's house. PA UBU, MA UBU, BIG BAD BERNIE, WALLOP, McCLUB, DOGPILE, BARMPOTS, SOLDIERS.

PA UBU. OK, lads. Time to get this plot moving. Who's got an idea? Me first. Me first.

DOGPILE. Pa Ubu, go on.

PA UBU. This is it, lads. It's simple. I stuff his lunch with arsenic. He shoves it down his gob, drops dead, and I nab his throne.

ALL. Ooh! Cheeky monkey! Aren't you the naughty one?

PA UBU. Good, innit? Dogpile, got anything better?

DOGPILE. I suggest: one slash of the sabre, to slice him in snippets from snitch to shoe.

ALL. Yay! Our hero! Whee! Yeehah!

PA UBU. And suppose he kicks you up the bum? Have you forgotten about those iron shoes he wears for Posh Parades? In any case, now I know, I'll tell him. There'll be a big reward.

MA UBU. Coward, traitor, lardbag.

ALL. Boo! Hiss!

PA UBU. Watch it, or I'll drop you lot in as well. Oh, all right. For your sakes, lads, I'll do it. Dogpile, stand by to slice.

DOGPILE. Hang on. Why don't we all pile in on him, yelling and shouting? We've got to scare off his guards.

PA UBU. Got it! I stamp on his toe. He kicks me. I shout 'SHIKT' -- and that's the signal. You all pile in.

MA UBU. Then as soon as he's dead, you grab the crown.

DOGPILE. And I and the lads see to the rest of them.

PA UBU. Right. Especially that bastard Billikins.

They start to go. He drags them back.

Hang on. Haven't we forgotten something? The solemn oath?

DOGPILE. How do we do that, without a Bible?

PA UBU. We'll use Ma Ubu. Swear on her.

ALL. Yay. Good. Right.

PA UBU. OK. You all swear to kill Good King Wenceslas properly?

ALL. We swear. We'll kill him. Up Pa Ubu. Yay.

End of Act One.

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