The Play

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 853

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.

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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 magistrates, enacts new tax laws that will enable him to take the rest of the country’s wealth. He also reneges on his promise to Bordure, who is imprisoned but escapes to Russia. The Czar sees Bordure for what he is, a traitor and an opportunist, but nevertheless agrees to help him overthrow Ubu. As Poland continues to suffer under his tyranny, Ubu occupies himself, Nero-fashion, by inventing systems “to bring good weather and exorcise rain” until Mère Ubu explains how dire his situation is. Ubu “weeps and sobs” for himself but finally agrees to wage war, as his wife urges. Refusing to pay his soldiers and looking “like an armed pumpkin,” Ubu goes to war as Mère Ubu plays the part of the good bourgeois wife seeing her husband off to work: “Adieu, Père Ubu. Be sure to kill the Czar.” Then she turns to more important matters: stealing the royal treasure for herself.

At the front, Ubu, as incompetent as he is gluttonous, decides to eat rather than prepare for the Czar’s attack. Although shot by a Russian soldier, Ubu cuts his assailant to pieces. Shot at a second time, Ubu believes himself mortally wounded, but, upon learning from Bordure that the charge was only a blank, Ubu recovers and tears his former ally to pieces as well. His army routed, Ubu manages to escape to a cave with two of his Palotins, Pile and Lotice. When a huge bear attacks Lotice, Ubu climbs out of harm’s way to recite the Lord’s Prayer, while Pile struggles to save his companion. Referring to himself by the royal “we” (nous ), Ubu tells his shaken and disgusted Palotins, “We did not hesitate to climb on to a higher rock so that our prayers would have less distance to travel to reach the heavens.” Still lazy and fearful, he will not even help...

(The entire section contains 3237 words.)

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