In Ubu Roi, what sort of parody of the tragedies of Shakespeare does Alfred Jarry give us?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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A parody is intended to mock or imitate an existing work by using satire. It is deliberately exaggerated and intended to be humorous and is often controversial, as was Ubu Roi, fashioned after Alfred Jarry's school teacher. With his bigoted teacher as his main character in Ubu Roi, Jarry purposefully mimics Shakespeare's Macbeth and, to a lesser extent, Hamlet and other works. The play was first shown in 1896 but audiences were not prepared for swearing and did not understand the poetic licence that Jarry was using, refusing to sit through the production when a word, in English, an often used word in the twenty first century, but considered extremely offensive at the time, was repeated.

Macbeth is a tragedy with Macbeth as the tragic hero and Ubu Roi's similarity with Macbeth is apparent by the fact that the basic plot of Macbeth is recognizable when the royal family is murdered to satisfy the ambition of the main character. Noticeably, however, in Ubu Roi, the main character is not essentially a good person whose lack of will power, over-zealous wife and weak personality cause a chain of events which he will regret or feel overwhelming guilt for and which will be his ultimate downfall. Nor, like Hamlet who is driven to avenge his father's death, does Ubu Roi have noble intentions.   

Shakespeare takes the philosophies of life and makes examples of them. Jarry then parodies ambition and temptation; its causes and outcomes. He parodies how the past affects the future. Macbeth comes to recognize the futility of his actions and contemplates how "tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow," (from Macbeth, Act V.v.19) loses all importance, "signifying nothing," (27). King Lear exposes the meaninglessness of life which Jarry counts on in his absurdist reproductions and the good suffer at the hands of the wicked but eventually, Lear will die a tragic hero. Ubu Roi, however, does not restore the natural balance, such as audiences would have expected, and certainly, as Shakespeare always ensures in his plays.  Jarry parodies an accepted system of beliefs most likely to be held by the audience and challenges its legitimacy as often, an audience would consist of those people considering themselves superior to the masses. What right do audiences have to consider themselves better? Ultimately, Jarry parodies sincerity and appearance versus reality which are examined, portrayed and disproved in all Shakespeare's plays.  

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