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Cornegibouille! Ubu is a slave now.

February 18, 2012 4 comments

Ubu Enchainé by Alfred Jarry. 1899. Ubu Bound.

In case you’ve missed the first episode, here is my chronicle of Ubu RoiUbu Enchainé is the sequel of Ubu Roi. The first scene sums up what happened in the previous play. Now that Ubu is back to France, he doesn’t want to be king anymore; he wants to be a slave now. Follow a series of events, and it goes crazier and crazier. The language is as imaginative as in Ubu roi and under the apparent lunacy, there are some serious themes.

First, Jarry makes fun of the army, in French, l’armée, in Ubu-language, l’Armerdre, literally, the armshrit.) He makes fun of the dogma of liberty (Remember the slogan of the French Republic: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité) and also mocks fraternity. This must have been quite shocking at the time. The army was respected, in the idea of revenge over the Germans. And remember it was the Dreyfus Affair back then.

Second, I heard a criticism of anarchism in this play. The soldiers refuse to obey, they say it’s their freedom to do so. But they’re not free to obey and the rule is to act freely and obey wouldn’t be acting freely. They prone liberty at any cost up to stupidity.

Nous sommes libres de faire ce que nous voulons, même d’obéir ; d’aller partout où il nous plaît, même en prison! La liberté, c’est l’esclavage ! We are free to do as we please, even free to obey, free to go everywhere we want, even to prison! True freedom lays in slavery!

The reasoning is pushed so far that it becomes ridiculous. (Is is a syllogism?)

I wrote an entry about character names in Trollope. Jarry has a lot of fun with them too. Here we have Pissembock (Pee-in-a -beer-glass), Pissedoux (Pee-softly), Granpré (High Prairie) or Grandair (Grandair, like in Trollope, btw). I have no idea how the English translator dealt with these names. Lord Catoblépas, the English character speaks French like a Spanish cow –this is literally what we say when a foreigner speaks awful French– mixing English and French, I could hear his accent:

Oh ! Vous faites à moi beaucoup de pleasure. Voici pour vous bonne pourboire. Oh! You’re making me many plaisir. Here a good tip to you.

I tried to translate the grammar mistakes into some a French could make in English. Again, I wonder how the English translator did.

The play was incredible. I saw a version directed by British director Dan Jemmet. Eric Cantona impersonated a formidable Père Ubu, Valérie Crouzet a vulgar and yelling Mère Ubu and an incredible actor, Giovanno Calo played a Narrator. When I read the play, I wondered how the director would do with all the characters and locations indicated in the book. He had a fantastic idea: the Narrator was in a kitchen and played all the other characters using eggs, toasts, a tea pot, a flower, a bottle. I understand that Jarry meant to use puppets. This was a crazy version of the puppets, perfectly in the atmosphere of Jarry’s text. Calo moved like a mime sometimes, funny and at the same time really telling what was happening. Marvellous.

I recommend that your rational mind takes a French leave when you read the Ubu plays. It’s the only way to enjoy them.

Photo: Eric Cantona by Patrick Swirc for “Télérama”.

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