Home > 19th Century, French Literature, Jarry Alfred, Theatre > Cornegibouille! Ubu is a slave now.

Cornegibouille! Ubu is a slave now.

February 18, 2012 Leave a comment Go to 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”.

  1. February 18, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    You bring back the plays. I went through some of my books and saw I had quite a few books on Jarry too, one was a fanatstic biography with a lot of great pictures, photos and woodcarving. The book was published by a Swiss publisher and written in German. It was sold for 1francs because nobody wanted it. I thought at the time it should be translated because she did a lot of research and it’s a wonderful book. OOP now…
    I enjoyed the puns and the names, I don’t know why it annoys me with other authors.
    His irreverence is so refreshing.


    • February 18, 2012 at 9:53 pm

      I’m glad you think I bring back the plays, they’re not easy to describe.
      I’m not that interested in writers’ bios but I guess it would be interesting to read about the public reactions when the plays were first showed. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to investigate.

      Perhaps you enjoyed the names because you started this thinking it wasn’t serious and that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.

      I thought Ubu Roi more literature-related whereas Ubu Enchaîné was more about politics.


  2. February 20, 2012 at 4:15 am

    Nice to see you discover Jarry! He’s long been one of my favorites. He also wrote two Ubu Almanacs, collections of shorter skits, with lovely sketches by Bonnard. You might enjoy those as well…

    And if you’re amused by Catoblépas, you might like the short play “Jef,” with three characters who are Belgian, English and Marseillais, with a chaos of dialects.

    I find Jarry alternately invigorating, hilarious, mystifying, disturbing — what a pity he died so young!


    • February 20, 2012 at 10:54 pm

      Hi Doug,
      Nice to hear from you again.
      Thanks for the recommendations. Actually Eric Cantona speaks with a Marseille accent, so my Ubu had a funny Southern accent.

      I totally agree with your description of Jarry.


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