The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Ubu Roi (“Ubu the king”) begins as a Punch-and-Judy show, with the Ubus—Mère and Père Ubu—trading accusations, insults, and threats. Mère upbraids her husband, the former king of Aragon, who is now content to be a captain of dragoons and confidential officer to Wenceslas, king of Poland. He is at first appalled by her suggestion to overthrow the king, but when she says that as monarch he will have a new umbrella and “a great big cloak,” Ubu yields to temptation and becomes, in Mère’s view, “a real man.” Together they enlist the aid of Captain Bordure, offering him the Dukedom of Lithuania and “a magnificent meal” that includes “cauliflower à la shittr” and a lavatory brush. Summoned by the king, the cowardly Ubu immediately begins to confess the plot, putting all the blame on Bordure and Mère Ubu, only to realize that the king wishes to make him the Count of Sandomir, for which honor Ubu absurdly repays the king with a toy whistle.

Even the king’s fourteen-year-old son Bourgelas knows “what an ass that Père Ubu is”; the kindly but myopic king does not. Back at the Ubu residence, the conspirators meet to work out their plan. All reject as “beastly” Ubu’s suggestion that they poison the king but agree that splitting him open with a sword, as Bordure suggests, is quite “noble and gallant.” Standing before Mère Ubu (who substitutes for the requisite priest) the conspirators swear to fight “gallantly,” and then, in a parody of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (pr. c. 1599-1600), fall upon the deceived king, assassinating him and two of his sons, and winning the Polish army to their side. Bourgelas, having fled to the mountains, is visited by the ghosts of his ancestors, who charge him with avenging his father’s murder.

Meanwhile, as the new king, Ubu reluctantly heeds his wife’s and Bordure’s advice and distributes food and money to the people in order to win their support. He then kills three hundred nobles, appropriates their property and titles, and, after murdering five hundred...

(The entire section is 853 words.)