R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)

R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)

"R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)" is a science fiction play by Karel Čapek. It premiered in 1921 and is famous for having introduced and popularized the term "robot".


The play begins in a factory that makes 'artificial people' — they are called Robots, but are closer to the modern idea of androids or even clones, creatures who can be mistaken for humans. They can plainly think for themselves. Although they seem happy to work for humans, that changes and leads to the end of the human race due to a hostile robot rebellion. The play premiered in Prague in 1921. It was translated from Czech into English by Paul Selver, and adapted for the English stage by Nigel Playfair in 1923. Basil Dean produced it in April 1923 for the Reandean Company at St. Martin's Theatre, London.

After having finished the manuscript, Čapek realized that he had created a modern version of the old Golem legend. He later took a different approach to the same theme in "War with the Newts", in which non-humans become a servant class in human society.

"R.U.R" is dark, but not hopeless, and was successful in its day in both Europe and the United States. In the American production, Spencer Tracy played one of the robots, in one of his earliest roles.

In February 1938, a thirty-five minute adaptation of a section of the play was broadcast on BBC Television — the first piece of television science-fiction ever to be produced. In 1948, another adaptation — this time of the entire play and running to ninety minutes — was screened by the BBC, and in between in 1941 BBC radio had also produced a radio play version. None of these three productions survive in the BBC's archives.

A more modern (1990) translation in English is available in "Toward the Radical Center: A Karel Čapek Reader", published by Catbird Press.

The Hollywood Theater of the Ear dramatized an unabridged audio version of "R.U.R." which is available on the collection "2000x: Tales of the Next Millenia" {ISBN 1-57453-556-0}.

The Origin of the Word 'Robot'

The play introduced the word "Robot", which displaced older words such as "automaton" or "android" in languages around the world. (In an article in Lidové noviny, Karel Čapek named his brother Josef as the true inventor of the word. [http://capek.misto.cz/english/robot.html] ) In its original Czech, "robota" means labor. The name "Rossum" is an allusion to the Czech word "rozum", meaning "reason", "wisdom", "intellect" or "common-sense". (It has been suggested that the allusion might be preserved by translating "Rossum" as "Reason", but all published translations to date have left the name untouched.)

Characters in R.U.R.

Parenthesis indicate differences in translations.


* Harry Domin (Domain) — General Manager, R.U.R.
* Fabry — Chief Engineer, R.U.R.
* Dr. Gall — Head of the Physiological Dept, R.U.R.
* Dr. Hellman (Hallemeier) — Psychologist-in-Chief
* Jacob Berman (Busman) — Managing Director, R.U.R.
* Alquist — Clerk of the Works, R.U.R.
* Helena Glory — President of the Humanity League, daughter of President Glory
* Emma (Nana) — Helena's maid
* Helena, — A vital, sympathetic, handsome girl of 21

"Robots and Robotesses"

* Marius, a Robot
* Sulla, a Robotess
* Radius, a Robot
* Primus, a Robot

Robots in "R.U.R"

The Robots described in the play are not robots in the modern sense. Rossum's robots are biological creations engineered in the same fashion as Frankenstein's creature as described by Mary Shelley. They are biological entities that have skin mixed in a vat, and their nerves and digestive tracts spun on spindles, and are then assembled like automobiles. In a limited sense, they resemble more modern conceptions of man-made life forms (such as the Replicants in "Blade Runner," and the Cylons in the new "Battlestar Galactica"), but in Čapek's time there was no conception of modern genetic engineering. Čapek's Robots are biological machines, but they are still "assembled", as opposed to "grown" or "born".

Plot of "R.U.R."

"Act One"

Helena, the daughter of the president of a major industrial power, arrives at the island factory of Rossum's Universal Robots. She meets Domin, the General Manager of R.U.R., who tells her the history of the company and the Robot technology, and the basics of economics which generate the demand for labor. Helena meets Fabry, Dr. Gall, Alquist, and Hallemeier, and reveals she is a representative of the League of Humanity, a human rights organization which wishes to "free" the Robots. The managers of the factory find this a ridiculous proposition, viewing the Robots as any other major appliance, and Helena is convinced of the irrelevance of such an organization to Robots. Domin and Helena fall in love and are engaged to be married.

"Act Two"

Ten years later, Helena and her nurse Nana are talking about current events; in particular the decline in human births. Helena and Domin reminisce about the day they met, and summarize the last ten years of world history as shaped by the new worldwide Robot-based economy. Helena meets Dr. Gall's new Robot experiment, Radius, and Dr Gall describes his experimental Robotess, Robot Helena. In secret, Helena burns the formula required to create Robots. The revolt of the Robots reaches Rossum's island as the act ends.

"Act Three"

The characters sense that the very universality of the Robots presents a danger. Reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, the characters discuss whether creating national Robots who were unable to communicate beyond their language group would have been desirable. As Robot forces lay siege to the factory, Helena reveals she has burnt the formula. The characters lament the end of humanity, and defend their actions despite their imminent deaths as a direct result. Robots storm the factory and kill all the humans, except for Alquist, whom the Robots spare because they recognize that "he works with his hands like the Robots" [Capek, Karel. "R.U.R." Translated by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair. Dover Publications. 2001. Page 49.]


Years have passed and all humans had been killed by the robot revolution except for Alquist. Alquist has been working to recreate the formula to make robots. Because he is not a scientist, he has not made any progress. He has begged the robot government to search for surviving humans and they have done so. There are no other surviving humans. Officials from the robot government approach Alquist and first order and then beg him to complete the formula, even if it means he will have to kill and dissect other Robots to do so. Alquist yields, to kill and dissect, which completes the circle of violence begun in Act Two. Alquist is disgusted by it. Robots Primus and Helena develop human feelings and fall in love, and Primus is able to discern the "secret of life," which had proved so elusive to Alquist, from an open book in the laboratory. Alquist realizes that they are the new Adam and Eve, and gives charge of the world to them.

ee also

* Karel Čapek
* War with the Newts


External links

* [http://jerz.setonhill.edu/resources/RUR/ General information on the play, including a plot summary and photographs from various historical productions]
* [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/13083 R.U.R. in Czech] from Project Gutenberg
* [http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/c/capek/karel/rur/ English language translation by David Wyllie]

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