Ubu Roi, by Alfred Henri Jarry
, is absurd
. Invite your friend
s 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?)
GOOD KING WENCESLAS
BIG BAD BERNIE
TSAR ALEXIS OF ALL THE RUSSKIES
MAJOR F. FORT
Barmpots, bankers, cashhounds, chaps, citizens, clerks, councillors, flunkeys,
ghosts, guards, judges, messengers, nobs, partisans, seafarers, soldiers,
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,
PA UBU. OK, lads. Time to get this plot moving. Who's got an idea? Me first. Me
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
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.