Although it is generally accepted that Alfred Jarry’s influential 1896 play, Ubu Roi, was revolutionary for its language, innovative staging, and use of black comedy, little has been written to analyze the work’s many Shakespearean connections. Plot devices, characters, dialogue, as well as production choices, display evidence of Jarry’s knowledge of Shakespeare; his appreciation and understanding of the dramatic pieces from which he borrows informs Jarry’s entire play. By incorporating specifically chosen Shakespearean elements, Ubu Roi--primogenitor of the Absurdist theater--continues in the Shakespearean dramatic tradition more thoroughly than most critics acknowledge, due in large part to the manner in which Jarry appropriates them.
My paper addresses the issues of legitimate versus illegitimate adaptation as they relate to questions of authorship, style, and audience, as well as the historical background of both Jarry and Shakespeare in the context of French theater. As Shakespeare is an outside voice in France, the role of the other as a subject of spectacle (and the connotations of foreigners and foreign lands in relation to the choice of setting) is also discussed. Additionally, my paper examines the freedom of Shakespeare’s translators in France into the nineteenth century, Jarry’s critical battles over Ubu Roi, and a close study of Jarry’s reworking of Shakespearean characters, plot lines, themes, and staging choices.