WORKS PROGRESS ADi.IiTISTRATI OI
FEDERAL THEATRE PROJECT
HISTORICAL DRJIA TOUR SERIES
"R.U.R. (ROSSUv''S UNIVJRSAL ROBOTS)"
"-Eglish Version by Paul Selver
and Nigel Playfair -
FOR FEDERAL THEATRE
Dorothea Thomas Lynch
Rolla A. Southworth
Derivation, Pronunciation, Definition
Introduction of "Robot" to English Language
The Plot (with scenes and characters)
Reviews of the New York Theatre Guild Production
Works of Karel Capek
Literary and Historic Significance
D.,_IVAI O 1, ROITOUYCIATITO, DEFlIJTIOY (Robot).
Derived from the Czech (pron, CHECK) word "robit" moaning w'1ork, or more
directly from "robota", si.ni-fyi-n co)mp sorry servitude, th torn r'-b-o-t
receives v arying p:rofCorences in its pronunciation by the commonly accepted
Icxicograph ,rs; yt all dictionariCs permit, and Imost sm to preferr,
rob'-ot, with tlh first o loing as in too, the second as in Bob, the accent
strongly on the first syllable
Author C-a-p-c-kls _nam can properly be pronounced Cha'pok(a as in cat) but
sonm authorities now accept or prefer the ang.tlacizod pronunciation'Kay'-
peck. His first name Karol, is oocasionally anglacizod to Karl.
=Agreemnt on. the definition of Robot is, h-r:-ovr, close. Samplos: "An auto-
-atonv who performs 1a1 hard work; hence, one who w-orks mchaniclly or
heartlessly;" and "One of a largo number of artificially nufactured pcr-
sons, .mechanically efficient but devoid of so:esibility; hence a brutal,
efficient, insensitive person; an autom:-aton:."
It should be noted those definitions s. tre that a Robot is not
nor ely a mechanical thing, but an artificially r.miaufacturod
PERSOII, efficient, but essentially heartless, brutal.
More extensively: "The torn"' (Robot) s--y En:cclopacdia Britaniica "pass-
ed into popular use after 1923 to describe either -echanical devices so
ingenious as to be almost hulan, or workers who~ mechanical and repetitive
work makes al-most into aching .... iConstruction of a mechanicall -nan
has captivated. the in~anation of nan since anotiui ty, and early litera-
ture contains rnny scheolos for the construction of so:-: device requiring
no human effort, .... and m-ythical r.nani.ie .. onstors permacte the folklore
of all 1 peopl.s". In this -ag' of "laborsaving" devices we see in alm..ost
every act of our daily lives, very fibre of our economic and social struc-
ture, the influence this idea has had u~pc the development of mechanics
and other brhanlchos of science :and ongioring; and we need but remember
the gooda and bad fairies an"d brovnics, the magii and monsters, to realize
how far back in generations and how earl y in the lives of all, is planted
the wishful thought of effortless labor. And before the days of machines,
man accomplished it in a practical way b, the enslaveent of conquorod
nations or races.
IIITRODUCTI On OF "ROBO'" TO ENGLISH LANGUAGE
The word Robot was incorporatcd into the c orican vocabulary with the pro-
duction (of Paul Solver and Nigol Playfair's English version) of brilliant
Czech play:wright-novelist Karol Capek's imainative and magnificent meo-
drama R.U.R., or ROSSUI:'S I UIV RSAL ROOTIS,' first prosecuted, at the Garrick
Theatre in New York, by the Theatre Guild, in Octobor 1922.. (See reviews
Page III of this outline.)
The play had originally boee: produced -- and created a sensation -- in
Prague dur-ng 1921, and eventually vas presented in most of the theatrical
centers of th'e world, bringing internat1' onal acclaim. to its already respec-
ted young author.
R.U.R. is written in three acts and in the original version, a brief epils ,
The Time is in the Future, The Place an undisclosed I.ndepndent Island. Act
I'and the Epilog are in the o .ice of the manager of Rossum's Universal .Robot
Acts II and III are in Helena's drawing roor, 10 years after Act I. (The
Epilog is a year aft r Act III. In Florida Federal Theatre's pow-erful pro-
duction, however, it is to be noted the .Epilog as su tested by certain
critics of the original production is omitted.
Characters are: Harry Domin, Genl. Igr.; Sulla, a Robotess; Iarius, a
Robot; Helena Glory, a Young Woman; Dr. Gall, Head of Physiological and
Experimental Depts.; I.r, Fabry, Engr. Gonl. & Technical Controller; Dr.
Hallermeier, Head of Robot-Training Institute; I.lr. Alquist, Architect &
Head of Yiss. Dept.; Consul Busran, Asst. .gr. of R.U.R.; Nana, Companion
to Helena Glory; a Servant; and Robots; Radius, Primus, and First, Second
and Third Robots; Helena, a Robotess.
Note: This was one of the first plays to depart scenically from the elab-
orately detailed realism which reached its zenith during and ir.:ediately
after the W.orld YWar; but, as originally produced in this country, it did not
go as far in its simplicity as the "structural settings" which have been
used with notable success and increasing popularity in the current decade.
IN R.U.R., Karel Capok brings technology and the "mechanical servant"
philosophy to an iragin-atively dram.iatic conclusion by conceiving that a
half mad. scientist-inventor named Rossumr had actually evolved a secret
method of creating by practical, econo.:icc.l, factory mass-production method
Robots of flesh and bone and in the imago of mrin, with exact reasoning
power and perfect memory, but without physical or emotional sensations of
pain, fear, fatigue, pleasure, hope, am-ibition or resentmenot, making thom
wastelessly efficient workers only.
As ACT Ibpo .ns, t- factory, on.its i'scl'-.d d -d i-:d.pe:ndent island, had al-
ready turned out, sold and shipped thousands, even millions of its living
automatons without souls, made in two grades: the unskilled, and those
manufactured and trained for special tra;dos or crafts. The arrival of
Helena Glory, President of the Humanitariam League (to improve the con-
dition of Robots) is the means of revealing these facts and the widely
varying characters, psychologies .and purposes of the men directing the R.U.R
The d'ccne concludes with what is generally ocepted as one of the speediest
courtships in theatre rocordS.
ACT II opens with an ominous air of suspense; even the Robots seem somehno.ir
changed. Action and dialog reveal that instead of creating croely self-
perpetuating profits for the stockholders and a workless heavon-on-earth in
which r:an can devote }his entire time an.d energy to physical and cultural
self-porfection, the nations h:.ve trained the Robots to be soldiers, turn-
inc them on each other and on noighbori.- civilizations When human workers
revolted against their Robot-created joblessness, the armed Robots were turn-
ed upon the human workers and mass destruction followed throughout the civi-
lizcd'rr:5rld. Under iilena's reforming :.nd humanitarian influence, Dr. Gall
had secretly changed the formulae to give the Robots powers rosulti -ng i
their attaining the emotions of pain, fear, ambition and hope. Hielena has
secretly destroyed the written formula for creating' Robots. As the act
ends, in a tensely dra-.atic scene, the island Robots sound tho whistle
signal for a nassod attack upon the huma -.r ho-i they have surrounded.
ACT III reveals the full seriousness of the situation; the hurmnaxsplan and
act daringly to outwit th., autom-atons of their own creation who aro now do-
termined to becono thensolvos the mstors.. Horo is brought out more clear-
ly than before the conflicting: porso nalitie s, characters, the ier urgos
and purposes of the humans. Their cra1ive work manship has bo;-n too perfect,
however, and in a soene of increasing horrific finality, the relentless
Robots sweep all before theo:, slay all but architect Alquist. (This ends
the Fodcral Thccatro production)
As the durable life-span of a Robot is but twenty yoers, their revolt-plan
had included re-creating t1he1nselve.s in the -actory from the secret formula
which they would have found. During the year botwn::. the close of Act III
and the EPILOG, they had aosscd by prodigious labor throughout the world
enough raw mate r ial s to maintain Robot-lifo for hundreds dof yoars. 9 ut 1r.
Alquist, friendly thou-gh he was, was an architect, not a creative choaist.,
had never knoin the formula and, despite his most profound endeavors, could
not reproduce the secret for re-oroating Robot life. In a final frenzy,
the Robot leaders had caused eovry inch of the earth.and sea to be searched,
but no other human being had ben.. spared and Alquist and the Robots wero
faced with the certainty that both Mankinid and Robothind were destined to
final extinction vwithi a short tine. Yet, before the final curtain, author
Capok loft so:eo hope that a now race would probably still be able to carry
REVIEWS OF THE i'E YORK THEATRE GUILD PRODUCTION
High praise and but little adverse criticism greeted the Amirican Premiero
of R.U.R. A few adverse co:rionts were that "the play seemed lo-ically to
end after the nassacro, and the opilog was unnocossary." But one of the
sane reviewers stated that, of several excellent European imports then play-
ing, .R. theost int sting, ... aand "not only is the satire searching
and stimulating, but seldon in a theatre have I experienced a d_,per thrill
than in the scone... waiting for the attack of the Robots."
The Forun: Ri.tU.R."is a highly original t-hrillor conin.g -to a climax with a
'chaste grand .and gConral slaughter' of all mankind; .... one of the most
thoug.ht-p rovcing plays of the season. Capek, whilo he satirizes the en-
ployer, also shows how utterly helpless are the worknen when they have
killed off the intclliconsia. It would be int-,erstin to see what an Aoeri-
can dramatist eightt do with this play, ... substituting Rods for Robots.
This is the Garrick's third play notable for its auto:ata,.-.. Percy Lackoy's
Scarecrow, Shaw's lothusaloh V."
Nove York Horald: ".... uurdorous social satire in t;rms of the most hair-
raising nelodra, with as m any social ir:p licationas as the Shavian
A Woman's M.agazin Critic: "From the sta::dpoint of abstract thought,
R..U.R. is a nor~nntous play, of multiple interests. lieo one who wishes to
cogitate on the ano:.alics of life, and .o one who wishes to undergo a new
experience through the ncdiun of the stage will dare to niss R.U.R.
Evning Mail: "R.U.R. is the reigning sensation in its native city, Prague,
and the f7ct is scarcely surprising, .... a serious attonpt to give artis-,
tic expression to the underlying nativos of social revolution.
And the Evening Sun: "Like an H. G. ITells of an earlier day, the dranat-
ist froecs h i t'ag-ination a-nd lots it soar away without restraint, and
his audience is only too delighted to go on a trip that exceeds oven Jules
Vorne's wildest drcans. R.U.R. is a super-nolodrana: a nclodrana of ac-
tion, plus a -.elodrana of ideas a combination rarely seeon on our stago."
WORKS OF KAREL CAPEK:
PLAYS: NOVELS: ESSAYS:
The Robber The Absolute at Large Intinate Things
Adai the Creator The Meteor The Gardner's Year
(with Josef Ca'ok) Hordubal
R. U. R. Dashonka SHORT STORIES:
The Insect Con.idy The Crucifixion
"War of the vts Tales of Distress Money & Other Stories
The 1Torld Wo Live In
The 1akropolous Secret DIOGAPjPHY
Pros. "iasaryk Tolls his
Also Fairy Tales.
Son of a well-to-do doctor, Karol CapeIk, born in 1890 was a student of
ethnology, psychology, folklore, g-odraphy, physics and cheonistry; in
addition to is native Czech, or Bohc.ian, he spoke andadrod Gor..an,
French an"d En'gish, was a great admirer of Shaw, Wells and Chosterton.
Although ho had attended loss than a dozon theatrical performances, he
wrote his first play at the age of 14 and, in maturityy, it became his
avowed intention to write 100 books before he died, taking all huran know-
ledge as his province. Quoting --acLood, "The an who knows all iust die,"
Capek would add, "but I hope I shall not die before I know all."
The agos-old free spirit, poetry and hu.nan kindness of the Czech race (or
Bohe:.ian, as he preferred to call it) was personified in Capok himself.
His own brief life-span reached its "lost brilliant flowering and attained
international acclaim and adu:iration at the sane tine his beloved country
reached its ovrn modern and too brief re-birth; he died as his country's
The story is told that, following the forced partition of Czecho-Slovakia
last fall in the Munich "Appeasonent Pact," Capo:, who had boon striving
with all hi.s being for the preservation of his country's unity and was
consequently marked for probable persecution by the invaders, found oppor-
tunity to escape and continue his writing outside his omw land. He re-
fused; preferring to stay and work with his countrymen, suffer with then if
.necessary, let their fate be his. But, his strength depleted by the
strain he had undergone, within a few days after "the partition" he co~e
tractod influenza which quickly developed into pnounonia and brought his
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untinely death. With the customary brevity of obituary nov, parraraph, the
following items but a few w.oks ago wore published.
Saturday Review of Literature, Doc. 20, 1938.: All aen suffer loss in the
early death of Karol Capok. He had the innemost rare gift: that of sin-
pie wisdom, pellucid truth. This `Gthe world ("like a guilty thing !urpris-
ed") usually tried to evade by calling it satire or fantasy.
TI IE LIagazine, Jan. 2, 1939: Died Karol Capok, No. .. dramatist of
Czeho-Slovakia, of influenza; in Pra.gue. A student of philosophy (Vn.
Janrs, John Dewoy), Karol Capoe played a leading part in introducing prag-
matisn and U. S. Literature to the intellectual world of the Austro-
Hungarian Enpire. At the sv:-o time ho wrote two plays., The World We Live
In, and R.U.R. (Rcssun's Universal Robots), protesting against -odon -
nechanization and the technical perfection of the Wester Civilization. As
an exponent of :i.odorn Czech literature and as a surportor of ox-President
Benes, he was in disgrace during the last few months.
'...1~2(c Magazine, Jan. 2, 1939: Died Karl Capok, 48, Czech author and
playwright, of pneurionia, in Prague, Dcc. 25. By 1922 his play R.U.R.,
describing the invention of perfect nochanical nonr who lacked nothing but
souls, brought hin international recognition. Although he believed it the
least interesting of all his works, it brought hil:i his greatest fane and
put the word "robot" into the English languaoe.
LITERARY AND HISTORIC SIGNIFIC.P NCE
R.U.R. was written in 1921, only two years after the fra-:inc of the Treaty
of Versailles which, largely through the influence of President Wilson,
created Czecho-Slovakia as an independent democratic Europoan state front
areas reclaimed fro:'. Gernany, Austria-THungary and Russia, in an effort to
reestablish the Bohcnian Czechish and Slavian national and racial autonomy,
language and culture and undo centuries-old injustices and tyrannies.
Hence any study of the lifo and writin:s of Karol Capek finds the research-
or delving farther and farther into the we.b of Europe's Oconom.ic and
political history, and discovering the Czechs and Slavs playing important
roles in al- ost every great conflict occasionally as a dominant factor
but more often as pawns because of the Eohenian lighthearted tolerance
and their geographic location as natural buffors bctw~-oon .orc aggressive
and i1mporialistic pooplos, Yot one noods no no deeper than the roots of
the World War and the Intrigtos, ideals, frustrations and compromises of
the Versaillcs Treaty of 1919; for it is against this irnediate back-
ground that arose the young deonocracy's inspired and heroic oi:fort to build
a new national economy, now cultural and social expression and a new litera-
In this latter field, a self-conscious literature ambitiously dealing vdth
"all-the knowledge in the world", Capek became the outstanding internation--
ally recognized example.
This melodrama depicting subtly his protest against the overecihanization
of civilization as his piercing dramatic mind saw it growing on all sides
of him, will probably be recorded in future histories as grimly prophetic
of the fate of his own people first of all. Today, throughout large areas
in the world, whole nations, as well as their armnis, -- according to news
headlines and radio flashes received oven as those paragraphs are writton--
are being bred and trained to work and fight vith the selfless obedience
and efficiency of Capok's imaginary Universal Robots I
The tragedy of the Czecho-Slovak transition (from a divided and subjugated
race to national autonomy and back to split and quarreling minorities with-
in the span of a single generation) is ironically mophasizod, in all impli-
cations, in the biographical sketch of Karol Capeo by William Drake in
Contemporary Europoan Writers, written in 1928, the mid-poriod of Czecho-
Slovakia's short-lived count iporary unity:
"The extraordinarily rapid rise of Karel Capek front comparative obscur-
ity to worldwide acclaim, the exceptional vitality and fecundity of his
talent, and the exigent social and :.,oralistic preoccupations which con-
trol his work, are all, in a fundamental and impressive sense, sugos--
tivo of the psychological situation of the newly triumphant Czocho-
Slovak Republic. Liberation and national solidarity have replaced
the imagination and the idealism of this long oppressed nation in a
way which can:.ot be without far-roaching intellectual consoqonces. The
single fact that Czechoslovakia has united its people, organized a
stable govern ont and assorted and decisively rnintained its independ-
ence, is an historical incident by no n.eans unique. hat really counts
is that, ..... perhaps intoxicated by the restoration of their liberty
and language, their integrity and ancient greatness, the Czechish
peoples have set the.isolves with an altogether exceptional energy and
intelligence to the labor of reclaiming, by patient industry, artistic
virtuosity and pure accomplishment and merit, the position of oeinence
which they enjoyed when Prague was a Mecca for the learned, and Bohemi-
an knights fared the world in search of virtuous causes.
"The whole nature of Capek's genius is Czech. Leader of the young
generation which, since the war, has superseded that of Vrchlicky,
Brezina, Machar, and Sova, he perfectly exemplifies the type of his
special group. In his novels and plays, the classic European forms,
introduced into Dohemian literature chiefly through the translations
of Vrchlicky, are cunningly adapted to the impulsive, informal utter-
ance of the new age, and salted wi:.th occasional, tactfully blended ad-
mixtures of German Expressionism, Russion Rayonnism, and the Cubism
whIich Josef Capek (Karel's brother) has borrowed from the French.
Technically, Capek's work is anomalous, for it is as distinctly in
the classical tradition as it is in the modernist. The singular ef-
fectiveness of his novels arises from this duality, as well as from the
author's trick of lending his narrative a structure and climactic ar-
rangement similar to that viich he employs in his plays.
"But Karel Capek's really important point of departure is not one of
technique, but one of character. .... By a touching miracle their
(Czech's) native language was kept alive and (their native literature)
reverted by natural impulse to their first racial origins. Thus, in
Capek's audacity of invention, Olypian disdain of the straight pros-
criptions of form and, above all, in his fundamental uprightness, his
apprehension of God in the spirit of life, and his tenderness for every
living creature, we perceive the original slav.
"The problems of humanity arc never absent from Capok's work. If his
novels and plays are in themselves thrilling, adroit, and occasionally
beautiful, they are so merely because Capek is one of the most accom-
plished living publicists. Under Iiabsburg censorship the only oxpress
sion left to the Czech was the theatre, so they made the theatre a
national forum, with a completeness hardly equalled since the time of
Writing more specifically of playvwrite-novelist Capok's various works,
"The collections of novolettos, The Crucifixion and Tales of Distress,
wi h which he opened his literary career, exhibit his talent in an
unripe and imitative state; but in the juxtaposition of his characters
he appears as an experimental choenist and in his delicate psycholog-
ical analyses is already socking the touchstone by which the mystery
of human nature nay be resolved to its elements."
This same talent, developed, may be soon in the play R.U.R., and the
"In his more mature work his curiosity is tovrards life itself. In his
first play, The Robber, the central character is symbolical of the
energetic and wilfull spirit of youth. R.U.R. is a symbolical drama
' of the mechanization of the proletariat. The Insect Comedy is an
ironic fantasy of human egotism and weakness. The Makropopoulos Secret
is a satirical demonstration of the worthlessness of human life. Each
of these plays is theatrically perfect, tense in action, ingenious
in execution, conspicuously original in conception; each has been pro-
S.duccd with notable success in half a dozen capitals and, by pure vir-
ture of theatrical dexterity of effectiveness, has deserved this suc-
oess. But," he points out fairly, "as symbolical drama none of these
plays will bear scrutiny, .... for he has not been able to assemble
those representations of his ideas into his consciousness and give
them organic semblance of life. Those deficiencies do not prevent the
plays from reaching an astonishing degree of theatrical effectiveness,
but they emphasize Karel Capek's creative limitations. The intrusion
S of the thesis impedes and sometimes, despite the author's ingenuity,
arbitrarily determines the development of the drama.
Concluded the biographer in 1928, after comparing Capok to H. G. Wells:
"One must watch Karel Capek. He has done much, but still has more to
do. Born in 1890, he is still young, is already famous, possesses a
rich and audacious talent, is in the intellectual mid-current of a
new national spirit which is determined to be great."
Living Age, Vols, 319, 323 1923
Forum "Plays Tonddor & Tough", Roland Holt, 1922
News Republic, Starke Young, 1922
Contemporary Furopean Writers, VWn. Drake, 1928
Contemporary Newspapers & Magazines, Hov. 1938 to Mar. 1939.
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