Ubu Roi (Plot Summary)

Ubu Roi (Plot Summary)

Plot Summary

Act I

Pere Ubu, along with Mere Ubu and Captain Bordure, plot the killing of the King of Poland. Pere Ubu poisons Bordure’s men, who have assembled at a sumptuous feast, by providing an excrement covered toilet brush for all to taste. The act ends with Pere Ubu demanding that Mere Ubu, Captain Bordure, and the other conspirators “swear to kill the king properly.”

Act II

Pere Ubu attacks and kills King Venceslas of Poland. Queen Rosemonde and her youngest son, Bougrelas, escape to a mountain cave, but the Queen dies. The dead ancestors appear to Bougrelas and demand vengeance, giving him a large sword.

After some prompting from Mere Ubu about sharing some of his newly ill gotten wealth, Pere Ubu throws gold coins to the crowd. Several are trampled in the mad rush. Pere Ubu’s response is to provide more gold as a prize to whoever wins a footrace. Afterwards, Pere Ubu invites the assembled multitude to an orgy at the palace.


Pere Ubu and Mere Ubu discuss what to do now that they are the sovereigns of Poland. Pere Ubu has decided, now that he no longer has any need of Captain Bordure, not to elevate him to the rank of Duke of Lithuania. Bordure ends up in Pere Ubu’s dungeon but escapes to ally himself with Czar Alexis. Meanwhile, Pere Ubu executes all of Poland’s nobles so that he can then lay claim to their properties. Then, he follows suit with the magistrates and the financiers, claiming a reform in both the law and financial dealings of the government. When he realizes that all of the government workers have been killed, Ubu shrugs and simply says that he himself will go door to door to collect the taxes.

Bordure sends Ubu a letter in which he reveals his plans to invade Poland and re-establish Bougrelas as the rightful King. Ubu weeps and sobs in fear until Mere Ubu suggests they go to war. Pere Ubu agrees but refuses to “pay out one sou” for its expense. With the cardboard cutout of a horse’s head around his neck, Ubu leads his army off to battle against Bordure, Czar Alexis, and Bougrelas.

Act IV

Mere Ubu searches the crypt that holds the remains of the former Kings of Poland for the Polish treasure. She discovers it among the bones of the dead kings but cannot carry it all out at once. When she says that she’ll come back tomorrow for the rest of the treasure, a voice from one of the tombs shouts, “never, Mere Ubu.” Bougrelas advances to Warsaw and wins the first battle. Mere Ubu escapes amid rifle shots and a hail of stones. Meanwhile, Pere Ubu and the czar do battle in the Ukraine. The tide shifts, first one way, then another. Finally, Pere Ubu and his army are bested. They escape to a cave in Lithuania. A bear attacks while Ubu is in the cave with two of his soldiers; Ubu climbs to safety on a rock, and, when asked for help, responds by mumbling a Pater Noster (“Our Father, who art in heaven... “). After the soldiers kill the bear, Ubu falls asleep, and the two men decide to escape while they have the opportunity.

Act V

After crossing Poland in four days to escape Bougrelas and his army, Mere Ubu arrives at the cave where Pere Ubu is sleeping fitfully. Unseen by her husband, Mere Ubu pretends to be a supernatural apparition to make Pere Ubu ask forgiveness for his “bit of pilfering.” Instead, Mere Ubu is treated to a litany of her faults. When he discovers that it is Mere Ubu in the cave, Pere Ubu throws the dead bear on top of her. Not taking any chances that it might still be alive, Pere Ubu climbs up on the rock and begins the Pater Noster routine again. Angered that Mere Ubu laughs at him, Pere Ubu begins to tear her to pieces. But, before he can do much damage, Bougrelas and his army arrive and soundly beat the Ubus, who just manage to escape to a ship on the Baltic Sea. Pere Ubu plans to get himself nominated Minister of Finances in Paris so that the whole sordid series of events can begin again.

The plays of Alfred Jarry are considered by many to be the first dramatic works of the theatre of the absurd. They are credited with a great number of literary innovations and are seen as major influences of the dada and symbolist movements in art. Ubu Roi (translated as King Ubu and King Turd) is Jarry’s most famous work. Ubu Roi eliminates the dramatic action from its Shakespearean antecedents and uses scatological humor and farce to present Jarry’s views on art, literature, politics, the ruling classes, and current events.

The play also offers parodic adaptations of situations and plot-lines from  HYPERLINK "http://www.answers.com/topic/shakespeare-s-plays" \t "_top" Shakespearean drama, including  HYPERLINK "http://www.answers.com/topic/macbeth" \t "_top" Macbeth HYPERLINK "http://www.answers.com/topic/hamlet-1" \t "_top" Hamlet and  HYPERLINK "http://www.answers.com/topic/richard-iii" \t "_top" Richard III. Like Macbeth, Ubu murders the king who has helped him on the urging of his wife, usurps the throne and is in turn defeated and killed by the dead man's sons; Jarry adapts the ghost of the dead king and Fortinbras's revolt from Hamlet; Buckingham's refusal of reward for assisting a usurpation from Richard III; and  HYPERLINK "http://www.answers.com/topic/the-winter-s-tale" \t "_top" The Winter's Tale's bear

His plays were widely and wildly hated for their lack of respect to royalty, religion and society, their vulgarity and scatology, brutality and low comedy, and their perceived utter lack of literary finish (Ubu Roi has a loose narrative thread, a large number of characters who appear on stage for only a short scene and its language a mash-up of high literature and slang - much of it invented).



Captain Bordure

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

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.

Mere Ubu

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

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 robotlike 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.

King Venceslas

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.


As a philosophical term, absurdity describes the lack of reasonableness and coherence in human existence. As a literary term, absurdity seems to have been coined especially for Pere Ubu. Throughout the play, Pere Ubu appears to be unaware of what is happening around him. Murder, dismemberment, the trampling of a townsperson when Pere Ubu distributes gold — none of these atrocities faze Ubu. The character of Pere Ubu is absurd in another way: his reason for living seems to be to kill everyone; his actions that lead up to these killings can be described as “irrefutably logical.” Logic equals killing everyone.

Two works by French author Albert Camus explore the concept of the absurd in modern literature. The Myth of Sisyphus and The Stranger emphasize the psychological implications of the absurd. 

Waiting for Godot, a play written in French by Irish born playwright Samuel Beckett, is a tragicomedy in which nothing happens except conversations that suggest the meaninglessness of life. Although bleak and austere, the drama is humorous, making a statement about the will to live and the ability to hope when hope is lost.

William P. Wiles

In this essay, Wiles examines Jarry’s play as a ground breaking work, what is considered by many to be the first drama in the Theatre of the Absurd.

It is highly doubtful that Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi will be performed on a high school stage any time soon. Why then subject it to academic scrutiny in a reference work aimed at the high school audience? The answer, quite simply enough, is because it was the first. In art, establishing a precedent is most important. Once Pere Ubu waddled to the middle of the stage and uttered his scandalous, foul-mouthed opening line, the theater could never be the same again. The entire dramatic experience had been fashioned into something new and different. Jarry opened a Pandora’s box and neglected to close the lid.

Source: William P. Wiles, for Drama for Students, Gale, 2000.