A Modern Ubu Roi

Alfred Jarry (1873-1907), Ubu roi: drame en cinq actes. Eight etchings colored à la poupée by Matta (1912-2002). Paris: Atelier Dupont-Visat, 1982. Copy no. 27 of 150. Graphic Arts Collection (GAX) Oversize PQ2619.A65 U3 1982f

The French writer Alfred Jarry is chiefly remembered as the creator of Ubu roi (King Ubu). The play is a loose parody of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, presenting the characters of mother and father Ubu, who plot to assassinate the King of Poland. The first commercial production opened on December 11, 1896 at the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre. But when the first line was spoken, “Merdre” (Shitter) the audience caused such uproar that it took the stage manager nearly fifteen minutes to quiet the auditorium. Those who did not walk out continued to jeer and interrupt the performance throughout the evening. For the complete French text, see: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/16884.

There will be a reading from Ubu roi by Florent Masse of L’Atelier, the French Theater Workshop, and students from Princeton University’s French department on March 7, 6:00 p.m., at the Princeton University Art Museum in conjunction with the exhibition “Invoking the Comic Muse.”

Jarry created his own illustrations for the published play, in particular the figure of father Ubu, with a distinctive spiral across his stomach. Since then, other artist have published their interpretations of Jarry’s notorious play, including in 1982, the Chilean artist Matta (Roberto Matta Echaurren). Born in Santiago, the young Matta spent time in Paris as an assistant to the architect Le Corbusier. In the 1930s, he became an active member of the French surrealists, who all looked to Jarry for inspiration and courage. As a sign of Matta’s appreciation to Jarry, the distinctive spiral appears in many of his paintings.