Alfred Jarry and the Ubu Plays - Historical Context


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Alfred Jarry and the Ubu Plays - Historical Context

  2. 2. “Talking about things that are understandable only weights down the mind and falsifies the memory, but the absurd exercises the mind and makes the memory work.” Alfred Jarry
  3. 3. 19TH CENTUARY THEATRE Theatre in the late 19th century (The time Ubu was published) was taking large steps into what we know today. The length of the shows became longer, copyright was invented. Theatre made more advances in different areas. Theatre companies were made up of designers, directors, and actors. They would come together for one year. Every person would be in charge of a different role. Because of these Repertory Companies tours were beginning to increase in great amounts. Actors were paid for one year or they were paid through the amount of time that the show ran.
  4. 4. Costume and Props in the Theatre PROPS- During the Renaissance in Europe, small acting troupes functioned as cooperatives, pooling resources and dividing any income. Many performers provided their own costumes, but special items—stage weapons, furniture or other hand-held devices—were considered "company property;" hence the term "property."[The relationship between "property" in the sense of ownership and "property" in the sense of a stage or screen object imply that they "belong" to whoever uses them on stage. COSTUME- WOMEN- Bustle is mainly fullness around the waist of a dress and a pad or framework can be used in order to exaggerate the cut of a dress. During the Bustle period the focus moved from the front of the dress to the back, in which the back of the dress was exaggerated. Corsets were used to push up the womens' bust and abdomens while a pad of horsehair or a tiny metal cage was used to exaggerate the waist and also the back of the dress. MEN- As it was in the Crinoline era, the importance of wearing certain styles during certain occasions carried into the late nineteenth century. Such as a starched shirt, standing collar, ascot tie, waistcoat, dark double-breasted frock coat, light trousers or for evenings white tie, waistcoat with black tails, trousers .Hairstyles during this time continued to be full, many men had beads, side whiskers, and/or full moustaches.
  5. 5. Theatre Make-Up, 1890’S In the 19th Century the limelight, gas lighting, and arc lightings that were introduced to theatre affected the type of makeup and how much makeup the actors would apply for their performances. Makeup was not only used in order to make characters distinguishable, but also so the audience could see and recognize the actors. According to "Arts and Entertainment: Stagecraft", during the 19th Century actors would use white chalk, carpenters' blue chalk, papers impregnated with red colouring, and India ink as stage makeup. Actors would use ash or even the red dust from bricks in order the create their stage makeup. Carl Baudin of the Leipziger Stadt Theatre came up with the invention of greasepaint. In 1860 in Germany opera actor, Ludwig Leichner, created stick greasepaint which is still an extremely important part of stage makeup today. By 1890, greasepaints for theatre could be found in many colors commercially, and this was the beginning of the creation of other theatre makeups that are used today. More advancement was being made with lighting. In the first third of the nineteenth century gas lamps began to replace candles and oil lamps. Because gas lamps were becoming so efficient gas tables were created. Gas tables were a group of valves used by the gasman to control the amount of light. This allowed dimming of the house lights, which forced to audiences attention to the stage. Lime light was also created during this time period. Limelight was the nineteenth century spotlight, which made a radiant pool of light that followed the actors. Lighting
  6. 6. Opening Night The opening audience to the show were many theatre traditionalists and avant-garde. Theatre director Aurélien-Marie Lugné-Poe produced the play at his Théâtre de l'Oeuvre. It's premiere was in 1896, and due to the opening word being a swear, it caused riots in the theatre. Because it caused such huge backlash, it was outlawed from theatre and Jarry moved it to puppet theatre till his death. It wasn't picked up again till long after his death, when swears on stage were vastly more accepted by general public. It was also heavily influenced by royalty, and because of the way it treats royalty, this was one of the other factors that kept the initial riots going
  7. 7. The piece was not able to be performed for another decade after opening night, and after Jarry’s Death. ‘Nonetheless, the one night and attendant scandal left Jarry satisfied that he had given society “the sight of its ignoble double,” a portrait of “the eternal imbecility of man, his eternal lubricity, his eternal gluttony, the baseness of instinct raised to the status of tyranny; of the coyness, the virtue, the patriotism, and the ideas of the people who have dined well.” Opening Night
  8. 8. PA UBU The character, Pa Ubu, a cowardly, grotesque, nasty character has many similarities to Henry VIII. You could argue that Alfred Jarry got some of his inspirations for the character from Henry VIII himself. Pa Ubu starts to reign by crawling to the people but soon becomes a tyrant, debraining anyone who disagrees with him (much like Henry beheading his wives for the littlest reasons). Pa Ubu was also portrayed as a large man, much like Henry. They are both rude and greatly feared. But of course like Henry VII, Pa Ubu has a downward spiral into the abyss. But the fact stands that Jarry's biggest inspiration for the character was actually his school teacher and the butt of schoolboy jokes at the Lycée in Rennes which Jarry attended. Lacking both authority and dignity, the physically grotesque figure of M. Hébert became for Jarry, "the symbol of all the ugliness and mediocrity he already saw in the world", and he in turn became the inspiration for Pa Ubu. The figure of Pa Ubu was to be a potent one for Jarry, who became obsessed by his creation, to the point that he began to imitate him, adopting an odd way of speaking, referring to himself as Père Ubu and behaving in a highly eccentric, Ubuesque manner.
  9. 9. MA UBU MA UBU Other than her outrageous husband, Ma 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 Ma 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 Pa 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. CAPTAIN BORDURE Bourdure kills King Venceslas of Poland, paving the way for Pa Ubu to become the king. Later, Bordure abandons Ubu, goes over to the Russians, and plots the death of Pa Ubu and the reclamation of the Polish throne by Bougrelas with the czar. Pa Ubu recognizes Bordure in the middle of the battle, and, the stage directions indicate, tears him to pieces. CAPTAIN BORDURE
  10. 10. Social Classes Social class in Paris in the 19th century determined how people lived, worked, interacted, travelled, and relaxed. Each class participated in and responded to the rapid changes of the era differently. Urbanization and industrialization increased the standard of living for the average Parisian, but the wealth gap between rich and poor remained very wide. Social classes diversified, fragmented, and expanded to accommodate many newly created occupations.
  11. 11. TheThreeClasses During the 19th century, the middle class, or bourgeoisie, developed from the groups of 18th century commercial and industrial capitalists. At the same time, many new occupations were created which primarily used mental skills rather than physical labour; the number of individuals and families in these fields exploded in number, creating a substantial, and eventually dominant, middle class. Simultaneously, the traditional rural peasants and the new urban industrial workers merged into a lower or working class. The three primary social classes (upper class aristocracy, middle class bourgeoisie, and lower or working class) existed in Paris throughout the 19th century (and still exist in many developed societies in the 21st century). Early in the 19th century, the old hereditary aristocracy and the newly wealthy evolved into the modern upper class The 19th century lower class was composed primarily of workers in extractive, manufacturing, and service industries, who were dependent on wages and who primarily used physical skills. The lower class was divided into occupational sub-groupings of highly skilled handcrafters, semi-skilled workers, and unskilled labourers. Below the lower class was an impoverished underclass, often called the sunken people.
  12. 12. Living Dirty For all social classes, living conditions in early 19th century Paris were extremely dirty and unsanitary; coal was the primary fuel for cooking and heating, streets had open drains and sewers filled with garbage and human waste. Public toilets were rare and often overflowing. Diseases spread quickly and more people died than were born. The lower class and non-natives generally had higher infant and adult mortality rates than the upper and middle classes. The population of Paris grew, in spite of high mortality rates, due to increased migration from rural areas and immigration from overseas French colonies. The overcrowded city continued to expand into all available land; there were no parks or recreation areas. During wars and at other times, governmental restrictions limited mobility, marriage, settlement, and migration. By the middle of the 19th century, institutional and judicial controls became less important and migration to the city escalated as the new industrial economy demanded additional workers. These migrants were most often lower class, single, and childless.
  13. 13. Living Dirty In 1800 all poor people, rural and urban, lived in one room homes. In the country that room might be divided in two by a low wall that kept the domestic animals in. Peasants were terrified that wolves would devour their cow and goat or that the neighbours would steal them. Sometimes there was a loft, if you were a bit more prosperous. People had fireplaces, but not stoves (who could afford them?). Glass had gotten much cheaper but I don't doubt that windows were still sealed with oiled parchment to let in some sunlight and keep out rain. Some houses had wooden floors, many didn't (packed earth instead). There was no running water. Peasants couldn't afford a tub, and they didn't all live near rivers, so bathing was rare. Even where there was a river or pond, people were scared to death of water spirits that would drown them. The brightest lads could get educated by the local cathedral, if the parents let him. Although rents were low, food was very dear. In the city, more families of 2 or more would be packed into the same house.
  14. 14. Politics of the Time In the previous 200 years to Alfred Jarry’s arrival in Parisian theatre, France had gone through a monumental amount of turmoil. Largely around who was running the country and how. In the early 1700’s the monarchy had complete power and dictatorship, which was overthrown and it continued to develop (very bloodily) as ideas and bodies were thrown back and forth. At the time there was a government and monarchy was almost completely out the question. But Alfred Jarry still heavily disagreed with social standing.
  15. 15. “According to Jane Taylor, “The central character is notorious for his infantile engagement with his world. Ubu inhabits a domain of greedy self-gratification.” Jarry’s metaphor for the modern man, he is an antihero—fat, ugly, vulgar, gluttonous, grandiose, dishonest, stupid, jejune, voracious, cruel, cowardly and evil—who grew out of schoolboy legends about the imaginary life of a hated teacher who had been at one point a slave on a Turkish Galley, at another frozen in ice in Norway and at one more the King of Poland. Ubu Roi follows and explores his political, martial and felonious exploits, offering parodic adaptations of situations and plot-lines from Shakespearean drama, including Macbeth, Hamletand Richard III: like Macbeth, Ubu—on the urging of his wife—murders the king who helped him and usurps his throne, and is in turn defeated and killed by his son; Jarry also 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 The Winter’s Tale’s bear.” source - The character of Ubu itself represented everything wrong with the modern day man. Which obviously upset a very self fulfilled public. Politics of the Time
  16. 16. Entertainment of the 1800’s Fashion, Music and Art 19th Centaury - It was unsanitary, but the gap between the rich and the poor was closing as living and working conditions were improved. Due to more money and free time, entertainment became essential and theatre broadened. In come Jarry. Entertainment entrepreneurs responded with an enormous increase in the number of cafes- concerts, public ballrooms, dance halls, theatres and other establishments. Theatre auditoriums were designed in tiers; their stratification reflected the division of society by class. Generally, the royal box, or loge, faced the stage surrounded by as many as five vertical balconies. Yearly loge rentals cost thousands of francs and were occupied only by the wealthy upper class. Stall seats on the ground floor were less expensive (equivalent to several days’ wages for a working class person) and primarily occupied by the middle class. The lower class could afford the highest gallery seats far above the boxes. Even higher, at the ceiling level, seats were provided to men recruited from the streets and cafes who were instructed to applaud on cue in exchange for free admission.
  17. 17. Cafe-concerts provided bands indoors and outdoors for dancing. American and ethnic dancers and their dances were imported to France greatly increasing the cross-cultural nature of the entertainments. Even the tempo of the dances quickened, reflecting the changes in the pace of life, the changes in society, and in dress which permitted new styles in dancing. New theatrical productions were introduced including the can-can, musical hall revues, and operettas. Cafe-concerts, cabarets and other venues featured fortune tellers, shooting galleries, belly dancers, circuses and motion pictures, and helped disrupt traditional social hierarchies by permitting mingling between upper and lower classes. Fashion in the 1890s in European and European- influenced countries is characterized by long elegant lines, tall collars, and the rise of sportswear Entertainment of the 1800’s Fashion, Music and Art
  18. 18. KingofAbsurdity The play tells the farcical story of Père Ubu, an officer of the King of Poland, a grotesque figure whom Jarry saw as epitomising the mediocrity and stupidity of middle- class officialdom. Absurdity became the hallmark of Jarry’s style. Hailed as the father of the Theatre of the Absurd, he told a friend that "talking about things that are understandable only weighs down the mind and falsifies the memory, but the absurd exercises the mind and makes the memory work". It was through writing Ubu Roi that Jarry became the creator of the science of Pataphysics, a logic of the absurd, and "science of imaginary solutions", enshrined since 1948 in the Collège de Pataphysique. He took inspiration from a schoolboy play, based around a teacher at his school whom he saw as the epitomy of disgust and grossness. This could have extended as he grew up and this one man who was his common link to the average world became generalised to the population as it struggled and writhed to break free of it's past.
  19. 19. The Absurd Theatre The Absurd Theatre can be seen as an attempt to capture the importance of myth and ritual to our age, by making people aware of the ultimate realities of his condition. The Absurd Theatre hopes to achieve this by shocking man out of an existence. It is felt that there is mystical experience in confronting the limits of human condition. As a result, absurd plays were made, directly aiming to startle the viewer, shaking them out of this comfortable, conventional life of everyday concerns. The Theatre of the Absurd openly rebelled against conventional theatre. Indeed, it was anti-theatre. It was surreal, illogical, conflict-less and plot-less. The dialogue seemed total gobbledygook. Not unexpectedly, the Theatre of the Absurd first met with incomprehension and rejection. Words failed to express the essence of human experience, the Theatre of the Absurd constituted first and foremost an onslaught on language, showing it as a very unreliable and insufficient tool of communication; making people aware of the possibility of going beyond everyday speech conventions and communicating more authentically. Objects are much more important than language in absurd Theatre and goes beyond language. Absurd drama gets rid of logic. It relishes the unexpected and the logically impossible and feels the freedom that we can enjoy when we abandon logic.
  20. 20. The Absurd Theatre Their individual identity is defined by language-the loss of logical language brings them towards a unity with living things. Nonsense, opens up a glimpse of the infinite. It offers freedom, brings you into contact with the sense of life and is a source of marvellous comedy. Absurd dramas are lyrical statements, very much like music: they communicate an atmosphere. Unlike conventional theatre, where language is the main part of the play in the Absurd Theatre language is only one of many components of its many poetic imagery. Alfred Jarry is an important writer of the Absurd Theatre. His UBU ROI (1896) is a mythical figure, set among a world of grotesque images. Ubu Roi is a caricature, a terrifying image of the animal nature of man and his cruelty. The work is a puppet play and its childish naivety underlines the horror. Alfred Jarry expressed man’s psychological states through using objects on the stage.
  21. 21. “We believe... that the applause of silence is the only kind that counts.” Alfred Jarry