R. U. R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)/Introduction

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Karel Capek was born in 1890 in Northern Bohemia. His literary work comprises plays, poems, criticism and short stories. Of his plays the earliest is "The Robber," which was begun as early as 1911, but was not completed until after the war. It may be described as an allegorical comedy. The anonymous central figure, from whom the title of the play is derived, represents the victorious and energetic spirit of youth, seizing all it covets, and ridiculing the sober and law-abiding logic of old age. As a play, it suffers from a lack of uniformity in its texture, in which lyrical romanticism alternates with the elements of farce and melodrama.

"The Robber" was followed by "R. U. R." which it is hardly necessary to discuss here in detail. The same applies to "The Life of the Insects," written by Capek in collaboration with his brother Josef, and performed in New York under the title, "The World We Live In." This curious satire on human society relies more upon scenic effects than does "R. U. R." Nevertheless the devastating third act, even from a purely literary point of view, must be regarded as a masterpiece of condensed and sustained satire. Capek's latest play, "The Makropoulos Affair," an amusing comment upon longevity, was first performed at Prague in November, 1922, and shows that his dramatic powers are as alert and ingenious as ever.

Capek's short stories also reveal a strong and original talent. The volume entitled "The Crucifix" contains penetrating psychological studies, which indicate the direction of Capek's philosophical interests. The "Tales of Distress," in which Capek skilfully, relentlessly, but compassionately demonstrates how human it is to err, also maintain a high standard, both in the actual style and in the handling of tragic or semi-tragic situations.

Of Capek's miscellaneous works, reference may be made to his "Criticism of Words," in which his capacity for wit, irony, and satire, is exercised to the full. His future development will be followed with great interest. It is significant that at the period when Czechoslovakia is so triumphantly justifying its establishment as an independent State, Capek is beginning to obtain for Czech literature, of whose vigorous and progressive spirit he is a typical representative, the world-wide attention which it merits, but of which it has hitherto been deprived owing to the adverse circumstances of its development.

London, December 19, 1922.


R. U. R. was first performed in New York at the Garrick Theatre on October 9, 1922. It was the first production of the fifth season of The Theatre Guild. The novelty of its idea and the unusual treatment found an immediate and enthusiastic welcome.

The following excerpts from the New York critcisms will be of interest:—

Alexander Woolcott in the New York Herald

"The Theatre Guild began its new season last evening with an elaborate production of a play in many respects more remarkable than any it has attempted since it first undertook the task of re-making the American theatre from the vantage point of the once abandoned Garrick . . . . It is murderous social satire, done in terms of the most hair-raising melodrama. It has as many social implications as the most heady of Shavian comedies, and it also has as many frank appeals to the human gooseflesh as 'The Bat' or any other latter day thriller."

Heywood Broun in the New York World

"The play begins as an extraordinary searching study of the nature of human life and human society . . . . Capek is potentially one of the great men in the modern drama. He has devised a scene at the end of the third act as awe-inspiring as anything we have ever seen in the theatre."

John Corbin in The New York Times

"In the intelligence of its writing, the novelty of its action and the provocative nature of its mood, R. U. R. sustains the high traditions of The Theatre Guild."

Stephen Rathbun in The New York Evening Sun

"R. U. R. is super melodrama—the melodrama of action, plus ideas, a combination that is rarely seen on our stage."

Maida Castellum in The Call

"The most brilliant satire on our mechanized civilization; the grimmest yet subtlest arraignment of this strange, mad thing we call the industrial society of today, has come to the New York stage this week from Prague in R. U. R.—Karel Capek's philosophic melodrama."

New York Globe Editorial—

"One of the most interesting dramas presented in New York in a decade."

Dr. Frank Crane

"It is significant of the oneness of the world and the unity of the intellectual life of modern civilization that the freshest and most thoughtful play in America this season comes from Czechoslovakia. It is called R. U. R. . . . The play is very skillfully constructed and is a delightful entertainment."