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RUR Rossum's Universal Robots - play summary

(first published 1920)


"Although he believed it the least interesting of all his works, it brought him greatest fame."
Capek's obituary in Newsweek (January 2, 1939) on R.U.R.:

This is the play in which the word ROBOT was used for the first time in history. Read more about it's invention!.

A wonderful website dedicated to RUR, complete with historical photos of the 1921 play is here.

Summary:
   This fantastically-visionary work takes place on an island somewhere in the middle of the ocean. On island is the central factory of Rossum's universal robots. These Robots are being sold to the world as cheap labour force. Ellen, the wife of the factory director, makes the top production engineer Dr. Gall, who loves her like all the other directors on the island , to give the Robots a soul, enable them to make decisions and to behave humanly. When the Robots realise their physical and mental supperiority they declare war on all humans and destroy all of the human race. Helena destroys the recipe for the making of the Robots thinking that she would thus save the people on the island but all the humans on the island except the master builder Alquist who refused to fight the Robots die. The Robots, which were produced without a reproductive system and that die after twenty years from wear try to force Alquist to write the recipe again He reproaches them for their mad plan to massacre all men. When the Robots tell him that he is in fact the last human alive, he expells them in fury out of his study and falls asleep. He is waken up by two Robots, who are like humans.Unlike the other Robots they have feelings, they sense love, are sensitive. Alquist sends them excitedly into the whole wide world as a new Adam and Eve, as the new generation.
   In this famous play we can see Capek's attitude towards technology and progress, whereupon he didn't look always so eagerly. Capek ha'd always in living memory the horrors of World War I, in which technology was so plentifuly misused against mankind. Capek knew very well , that all technology can prove worthless to the mankind if it doesn't know how to use it.
   Capek also points out that from time to time we ourselves behave like robots. That we've acquired our automatized and stereotypical steps which we repeat all the time thus sinking our life in stereotype. And on the other hand the machines, that we've created, so that we didn't have to exert this stereotyped work, are sometimes more inventive then us.
   Capek also thinks about the important part of our life: work . Contrary to the popular opinion work is an indivisibile part of our life. Work is one of our essential needs. Without work we would degenerate beacuse we wouldn't need to be interested in anything. The ending is also very typical for Capek.
   Nobody is completely guiltless and nobody isn't altogether innocent. Domin, the factory director wanted the best for the people. He didn't want them to work from dawn to sunset. But that's where he was exactly worng, because people must work because otherwise they would go mad. And the Robots only wanted what they rightly deserved. The right to make decisions. They didn't have to however acheive it by hte means which they used. Robots as machines were justly punished but the common for humans and the Robots, life, that survived.


Dominik Zunt 1998-2004, design: Radek Varbuchta