Today in Theatre History: “MERDRE!” UBU BREAKS THE MOLD–December 10, 1896

Representation of Père Ubu by Alfred Jarry Deu...

King Ubu–looking like merdre.

On this very day in theatre history–December 10, 1896–23 year-old Alfred Jarry and his adolescent-minded buddies in Paris staged the world premiere of Ubu Roi–a deliberately shocking social farce meant to draw attention to the rise of aesthetic anarchy.   The piece was designed to destroy the staid precepts of conventional theatre and entertainment while opening up new ways to present art and critique traditional modern culture and aesthetics.  With its provocative opening line:  “Merdre!,” the play is generally regarded as the first significant salvo from the avant-garde in what would soon lead to Futurism, Dada, Surrealism and the other great nonconformist artistic movements of the early 20th century.   Among those in attendance that evening was William Butler Yeats who recognized the production’s importance as the beginning of an extraordinary revolution in theatre–a revolution that Yeats himself would soon contribute to through his own brand of unconventional writing.  Many claim that the play is a proto-Absurdist piece, though I think applying such a term is a bit anachronistic.  It was most certainly the start of anti-conventional expressionism in theatre and it would lead to a complete revision of the Aristotelian model of dramatic analysis and appreciation.  Not bad for a 23 year-old playwright whose opening line was shit.

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