Ubu the king

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Ubu the King, by Alfred Jarry, is a play that appeals to the audience in two ways. The play is entertaining but also makes the audience contemplate society and human conduct. Jarry mocks human behavior using extreme and blunt exaggeration. The extremity of the actions and words of the characters makes the audience realize that this mockery is representative of the dilemma of modern society: what is rationalism? Ubu the King expresses at least three relationships between humans: male vs. female, powerful vs. powerless, and rich vs. poor. Throughout the play, irrational human conduct questions these relationships. Some of the people involved in the same relationships in modern society are seen as behaving rationally by the modern standards. However, Jarry has his characters act very irrational which questions human behavior.

The opening line of Ubu the King lets viewers know that it will not be a play that displays humans as being kind.

"Crrrap!" Père Ubu exclaims (55). This word in itself defies society. Modern society's standards say it is wrong to present language like this to the public. "Why don't I smash you, Mère Ubu!" is a line that further expresses such language (55). This scene continues with the defiance of society, shown by the relationship between the male and female figure: Père Ubu and Mère Ubu. The exaggerated cruelty between the couple is shocking and serves as a realization to the audience. It is the kind of relationship that exists but is not discussed. In this scene and throughout the rest of the play society's norms are defied by showing an unpleasant yet realistic relationship between man and woman.

This play exaggerates and mocks Shakespeare's Macbeth but it is still consistent with the basic qualities of the characters. The play also says something about Arnold's definition of culture. Arnold says that culture is the best and that we should associate ourselves with the best. The play displays a culture that is not the best and human behaviors that do not associate with the best. This relates to the dilemma of modern culture. Modern culture, being defined as the best, maybe actually isn't the best. The play makes the viewers contemplate the modern.

The powerful opening scene expresses another human quality, greed. Mère Ubu acts greedily by telling Père Ubu to kill another in order to become rich, "Come now Père Ubu, are you content with your lot?" she questions, all the while expecting him to do it (55). After a very brief period of thought, Père Ubu agrees to it (55-58). This is another shock to the audience. Along with being a shock this scene displays the motivation of greed through irrational behavior.

Ubu the King poses a particular question many times: What is rational thinking? It is obvious that throughout the play many irrational actions take place. The actions and thoughts are noticeably irrational to the public audience, but the characters display them as perfectly rational. A few examples of this occur at the dinner scene . The extensive list of food for the feast includes "polish soup, dog patè, fartichokes, and cauliflower à la crap", all disgusting and unheard of foods (60-63). The scene not only makes a mockery of the traditional feasts and displays gluttony; it is obviously not normal by modern standards. In the context of the play, however, it is seen as normal as the guests feast on the meal. Another display of abnormality is when Père Ubu leaves the room and makes his return by throwing a toilet brush on the table telling everyone to taste it. What makes it even more unthinkable is the fact the guests actually taste the brush (62). This scene, although absurd, further mocks the feasts of wealthy people who have dinners that to some seem just as ridiculous as the one acted out by the Ubu's and their guests.

A scene that displays the two relationships; rich vs. poor and powerful vs. powerless is Act 3 Scene 2(90-96). In this scene Père Ubu uses his wealth and power to make irrational decisions that affect those with less wealth and power. This particular scene makes fun of people possessing wealth and power. It displays how irrationally someone in a king's position can think in times of chaos. They now have money, rank, and status to confuse their thinking ability. Père Ubu disposes of humans like they are dolls. This displays the real life apathy of people's concern for others. This scene also pokes fun at the judicial system as King Ubu dispenses justice randomly, not even consulting anyone (even himself) before doing so.

Ubu the King is a play that shocked many people. However, it is a work that displays many important themes that relate to human nature. It shows what humans act like with only their base motivations, which reflects modern dilemma. It is a wake-up call to society and poses these questions: What is right and what is wrong? Who is to make the decision between the two?