Thursday, March 19, 2009

Alfred Jarry is the Man

In college, I was a student of the theatre. And during one class on European Drama, I read a play which, to this day, is still one of my fondest and most cherished favorites. Ubu roi, written by Alfred Jarry is one of the great precursors to modern drama. The man is little known outside of his home country of France, and I thought I should give some blog love to the genius playwright.

Alfred Jarry was born in Laval, Mayenne, France in 1873. He was a precocious student, often making fun of his less than worthy professors and, along with other boys, would create puppet shows based around the characters in his own life. He moved to Paris at the age of 17, both of his parents died, and he discovered absinthe, as many of the great playwrights did.

His great work, Ubu roi, opened on December 10, 1896, to a crowd of horrified viewers, astounded at his use of "Merdre!" (translated as "Shitter!" in English). The word sparked a riot and the play was not seen again until 1907. Among the many other talents Jarry possessed, he was the inventor of Pataphysics, a strange pseudoscience, still not completely understood. He wore a pistol on his midget frame, and rode a bicycle, of which he referred to as "that which rolls". All the while his health continued to deteriorate from his massive alcohol consumption.

Jarry died in 1907 at the tender age of 34 from tuberculosis but his influence lives on in his plays, fiction novels, pseudoscientific studies and through his legendary status which he took on during the last years of his life. There is even a band named Pére Ubu, which is not coincidental. He is often known as the first absurdist playwright, the first surrealist or one of many labels. He was, however, none and all of these things. Ubu roi is still a timeless piece, as relevant to the trials of the modern day as was to his 19th century France.

More on Jarry
Even more on Jarry

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