Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 502
Père Ubu (par EW -bew), the former king of Aragon, captain of the Dragoons, count of Sandomir, and, later, king of Poland. He is an obese, smelly grub, with an enormous paunch, who carries a walking stick in his right-hand pocket and uses a toilet brush as his...
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Père Ubu (par EW-bew), the former king of Aragon, captain of the Dragoons, count of Sandomir, and, later, king of Poland. He is an obese, smelly grub, with an enormous paunch, who carries a walking stick in his right-hand pocket and uses a toilet brush as his scepter. As a grotesque parody of a petty official who usurps a position of power, he is vulgar, gluttonous, rapacious, untrustworthy, greedy, sadistic, cowardly, and stupid. His actions are impulsive, and his speech is a mixture of vulgar expressions, oaths, and repetitive phrases. He ruthlessly obtains the Polish throne, then recklessly abuses his power by killing off the nobility, usurping the power of the judiciary, and overtaxing the peasants. Unsuccessful in defending his kingdom against the Russians, he escapes to France.
Mère Ubu (mar), Ubu’s wife, a repulsive, unattractive, foulmouthed woman who cooks her food in excrement. She goads Ubu into assassinating the Polish king and usurping the throne. Although just as vicious as Ubu, she knows the limits to which power can be wielded and is more practical than he in matters of politics. She tries to act independently of Ubu in stealing the royal gold, but her scheme is thwarted by Boggerlas.
Captain Macnure, an officer in the Polish army who agrees to assassinate the king. He is a parody of the honorable soldier who would rather split the king in half with his sword than poison him. Betrayed by Ubu, he joins the Russian czar to wage war on Ubu, who eventually tears him to pieces in combat.
King Wenceslas (van-TSEH-slahs), the good king of Poland who provides for his subjects. Rash and imprudent, he becomes an example of foolish credulity and heedless obstinacy when he attends the Grand Review unarmed and unprotected and is assassinated by Ubu’s henchmen.
Queen Rosamund, the queen of Poland. Cautious and wary, she warns her husband not to attend the Grand Review. After he is assassinated, she dies of grief in her son’s arms in a scene that parodies a melodramatic death scene.
Boggerlas, the fourteen-year-old son of King Wenceslas, wise to Ubu’s schemes. He vows to avenge himself on Ubu for causing the death of his family. Fighting with great courage, he eventually reclaims the throne.
Tsar Alexis, the noble czar of Russia, who will not use treachery to win a victory. He joins forces with Macnure to defeat Ubu.
General Laski, a foolish general of the Polish army. He is more interested in the formality of parading than in battle tactics.
Gyron, and other
Palcontents, Ubu’s henchmen, who kill King Wenceslas and his sons. Heads and Tails kill a wild bear without the help of Ubu, who watches and prays. After this incident, they desert him. Gyron, a black man, is killed while helping Mère Ubu rob the crypt of the Polish kings.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 550
Bourdure kills King Venceslas of Poland, paving the way for Pere Ubu to become the king. Later, Bordure abandons Ubu, goes over to the Russians, and plots the death of Pere Ubu and the reclamation of the Polish throne by Bougrelas with the czar. Pere Ubu recognizes Bordure in the middle of the battle, and, the stage directions indicate, tears him to pieces.
Bougrelas is the sole surviving son of King Venceslas and Queen Rosemonde. He escapes from the battle with Pere Ubu, receives a visit from all his dead ancestors demanding vengeance, and eventually defeats Pere Ubu and regains the crown.
Queen Rosemonde tries to warn King Venceslas by recounting one of her dreams. In the dream, Ubu kills Venceslas and becomes King of Poland. During the battle, the queen escapes down the secret stairway with her son, Bougrelas, but dies shortly after in a cave in the mountains.
Other than her outrageous husband, Mere Ubu is the only character in the play who exhibits more than two or three basic character traits. That is not to say, however, that Mere Ubu is a fully-rounded, complex character in the play. On the contrary, she is merely a watered-down version of her pompous husband. She does act like Lady Macbeth early in the play by suggesting that Pere Ubu slaughter the entire Polish royal family and ascend to the throne. After that, she makes no additional contribution to the plot of the drama.
Pere Ubu is less than a ‘‘king,’’ even lesser than a traditional dramatic character. He kills the royal family of Poland in order to gain the throne, plunders their wealth, and steals whatever and whenever he desires. When threatened by the Polish king’s surviving son, Ubu runs and hides. And, through everything, he stuffs himself with food and drink and shouts obscenities. Jarry uses the perverse behaviors of Pere Ubu—greed, ambition, tyrannical behavior, absolute stupidity—to satirize the middle-class life he hated.
The original character of Pere Ubu was first seen as a marionette. The clipped speech and robot-like movements of the play’s Pere Ubu derive from this earlier incarnation. Jarry wanted Ubu to be played masked, but the actor who portrayed the character in its outrageous performance at the Theatre de l’Oeuvre, Firmin Gernier, refused. However, the rapid speech, the jerky stylized movements, and the bulging pear-shaped costume were maintained.
Unlike characters in more conventional plays, Pere Ubu is free from the restraints of good and evil. He experiences his own perversity with a sick joy, a bombastic attitude, and a foul tongue. It has been suggested that the character of Ubu is played ‘‘in life itself’’ rather than dreamed or written. Pere Ubu lives on, not so much because of the play that bears his name, but because of Jarry’s transformation into his own creation.
Venceslas is King of Poland. He raises Pere Ubu to the rank of Count of Sandomir. Venceslas ignores the warning of his wife and goes to the ‘‘Review’’ without a sword. There, the army of Pere Ubu, led by Captain Bordure, kills the King. The ghost of King Venceslas visits his sole surviving son, Bougrelas, as part of the assembled dead who demand vengeance.