Lesson 10: Radical Shakespeare


Culture, Genre, Theatre, Context

  • Meaning is culturally oriented: the meaning of ghost differs, depending on the given culture. Chinese people may take avenging ghosts as real, while Shakespeare's ghosts are more insubstantial, more a projection of your guilty conscience.
  • Meaning is produced by generic and theatrical conventions: the meaning of having a ghost differs, depending on the given theatre.
  • Generic difference: in chivalry romance, one does not need to worry about money at all.
  • Theatrical difference: in Kunqu, the male heroes are feminine; in Shakespeare, the females are played by women!
  • But, you are not just a slave to your given culture, genre, or theatre; instead, all great masters (try to) transcend their culture, genre, and theatre, or at least are conscious of them.
  • Dialogue with the culture, genre, theatre.
  • Importance of contextualizing a text, hence the significance of Ubu Roi.

Alfred Jarry, Ubu Roi

  • Contextualization is necessary for Ubu Roi to make sense.
  • All the (Western, Japanese, Chinese) Macbeths, despite their enormous differences, belong to the classical tradition (we know how to react, appreciate, criticize, etc.) When we come to Ubu Roi, it's totally different.
  • Similar story¡Xurged by his Wife, Ubu kills his King and becomes a tyrant.
  • Motive¡Xambition, greed, gratification, selfishness, fear; in short, nothing noble or righteous.
  • Nothing supernatural (no sign, witch, etc.); only the more "noble" character (the Queen) is capable spiritually to have a dream, and the "ghost" is actually selfish and manipulative Ma Ubu.
  • Plot¡Xno justice, no logic.
  • Characters¡Xsilly, stupid, vulgar, cruel, funny (Poland¡Xsynonym of stupidity in Western culture).
  • General principle¡Xno pretense (of nobility, beauty, order, morale, sentimentality), no good/bad, black/white; instead, it's all bad! Honesty about the real world.
  • Effect¡Xtotally absurd, eccentric, unconventional, outrageous, shocking.


Ubu Roi Theatre

  • Mask, puppet theatre, marionette, artificial (voice, character), two-dimensional, no illusion of reality (cardboard location, one-man army, etc.)
  • Effect¡Xtotally absurd, eccentric, unconventional, outrageous, shocking.
  • Why?
  • Overthrows the whole concept of theatre (reality illusion, order, sense-making, aesthetics, decency, elegance, etc.)
  • Ridiculing/cynical about the theatre and life (us).
  • Highly influential for modern theatre.
  • We all live in the world of absurdity and we're not so shocked, but imagine when this was first confronted to the audience, it was totally shocking.
  • Conclusion: each theatre has its own value, philosophy, as well as conventions and aesthetics (context); each adaptation is a reflection, contextualization, revision, modification, interpretation, and creation.



Sichuan Opera¡m°¨§J¥Õ¤Ò¤H¡n

  • If Ubu Roi is the least Shakespearean version of Macbeth, this is the most Shakespearean.
  • Both Macbeth and Lady both want power, and have been talking about it all the time (Shakespearean).
  • Macbeth and Lady are actually 1 person (Shakespearean).
  • No real ghost or spirit, only fantasy and guilty conscience (Shakespearean).
  • No poetic justice (Shakespearean).
  • Why no more murder? If you are bad enough to kill a father-figure, you can probably do anything, and murdering more people won't make any stronger dramatic impression anyway.
  • Amazing skills (long water sleeves).
  • Interesting female psychology (Shakespeare's women are not always strong characters; even Lady Macbeth disappears soon after the murder).
  • Feminist? If not, what?



© 2005 by Bi-qi Beatrice Lei. All rights reserved.