The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The play begins at a time that is possibly the early 1920’s, on an unspecified island somewhere on Earth. A factory called R.U.R. (an acronym for Rossum’s Universal Robots) manufactures and exports thousands of artificial people, the so-called Robots.

Helena, a daughter of a renowned scientist, Dr. Glory, goes to the island on behalf of the Humanity League to investigate the condition of the Robots. She is told that the elderly Professor Rossum began to seek a sort of scientific substitute for God, with the sole purpose of supplying proof that Providence was no longer necessary. His son had a different goal, that of making live and intelligent working machines that would provide cheap labor. As Domain, the General Manager for Rossum’s Universal Robots explains, humans are too complicated, and a good engineer could make them more simply, which is exactly what the younger Rossum has done. The result is a mechanism that resembles a human in some ways but shows striking differences.

Amid the handful of humans, surrounded by a hundred thousand Robots, Helena stays on the island much longer than planned. She expresses her sadness as well as her intent to liberate the Robots. She fears that no more children will be born and too many mindless Robots will be produced. She influences one of the engineers, Dr. Gall, to provide the Robots with souls in order to improve their lot; he does so because he is in love with her, as are all others. She...

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Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Island. Unnamed island in an unspecified remote location that is the initial launching ground for the robot revolt. By the end of the play, the island becomes a kind of Eden, where the last human man witnesses the birth of love between a young robot couple that holds the promise of a new kind of humanity, albeit a robot one.

Rossman’s Universal Robots office

Rossman’s Universal Robots office. Central office of R.U.R., in which Harry Domin, the general manager, meets Helena Glory, who has come to tour the factory. Harry eventually proposes marriage in a manner that suggests a business transaction. It is fitting that such a proposal takes place in his office.

Helena’s drawing room

Helena’s drawing room. Ten years after Helena and Harry marry, their drawing room is neatly appointed, revealing the humanizing and feminine influence that Helena brings to the otherwise sterile environment of the robot factory.


Laboratory. Workplace where Alquist—the last human still alive—experiments on robots, hoping to rediscover the formula for their manufacture. He fails but confronts a young robot couple who exhibit signs of romantic love. They have already transcended Alquist’s ability to propagate their race and reveal a humanity that all human beings in the play—except Helena—ironically lack.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

The end of World War I brought many changes to Europe, Russia, and the United States. The years of war had been hard on many countries....

(The entire section is 606 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Authors usually write with an audience in mind. Capek intended R.U.R. as a way to awaken audiences to...

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1921: The first aircraft carrier is commissioned.

Today: During periods of threatened conflict,...

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Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Discuss the ending of the play. Do the new Adam and Eve signify a hopeful ending? Why or why not?

Capek clearly had concerns...

(The entire section is 91 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) evokes many of the same issues about human responsibility as does...

(The entire section is 135 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Comrada, Norma. ‘‘Golem and Robot: A Search for Connections,’’ in the Journal of the Fantastic in...

(The entire section is 267 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

apek, Karel. Toward the Radical Center: A Karel Capek Reader. Edited and introduced by Peter Kussi. Translated by Norma Comrada, et al. Highland Park, N.J.: Catbird Press, 1990. Includes a brief but informative biography. Evaluates existing translations of apek’s works and provides many new translations, including R.U.R. Discusses apek’s philosophy, politics, and use of language.

Harkins, William Edward. Karel Capek. New York: Columbia University Press, 1962. Best introduction to R.U.R. Only book-length critical study of apek’s work written in English, discussing philosophy, artistic structure, theme, character, literary influences, and innovations in form.

King, Sharon D. “A Better Eve: Women and Robots in Capek’s R.U.R. and Pavlovsky’s El Robot.” In Women in Theatre, edited by James Redmond. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Interesting, detailed analysis of the character of Helena, including discussion of male-female roles and attitudes about childbirth and sterility.

Matuska, Alexander. Karel Capek: An Essay. Translated by Cathryn Alan. London: Allen & Unwin, 1964. Clear introduction to life and philosophy for new readers. Discusses R.U.R. as an analysis of human nature and of labor.

Wellek, Rene. Essays on Czech Literature. The Hague: Mouton, 1963. Divides apek’s writing into three periods, discussing changes in style and subject matter. Evaluates the play’s theatrical qualities, traces popularity, and analyzes the play’s emphasis on the dangers of mechanization.