Photograph of stage performance of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (by Marionette Theater Stockholm; Michael Meschke, Sture Pyk, & Franciszka Themerson; music by Krzysztof Penderecki, 1964–photographer unknown?).
Ubu Roi (Ubu the King or King Ubu) is a play by Alfred Jarry. It was first performed in Paris at the Théâtre de l'Œuvre, causing a riotous response in the audience as it opened and closed on December 10, 1896. It is considered a wild, bizarre and comic play, significant for the way it overturns cultural rules, norms, and conventions. For those who were in the audience on that night to witness the response, including William Butler Yeats, it seemed an event of revolutionary importance. It is now seen by some to have opened the door for what became known as modernism in the twentieth century. It is a precursor to Dada, Surrealism and the Theatre of the Absurd. It is the first of three stylised burlesques in which Jarry satirises power, greed, and their evil practices — in particular the propensity of the complacent bourgeoisie to abuse the authority engendered by success.
The title is sometimes translated as King Turd; however, the word “Ubu” is actually merely a nonsense word that evolved from the French pronunciation of the name “Herbert”, which was the name of one of Jarry’s teachers who was the satirical target and inspirer of the first versions of the play.