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Capek play.jpg
A scene from the play, showing three robots
Written byKarel Čapek
Date premiered2 January 1921
Original languageCzech
GenreScience fiction

R.U.R. is a 1920 science-fiction play by the Czech writer Karel Čapek. "R.U.R." stands for Rossumovi Univerzální Roboti (Rossum's Universal Robots,[1] a phrase that has been used as a subtitle in English versions).[2] The play had its world premiere on 2 January 1921 in Hradec Králové;[3] it introduced the word "robot" to the English language and to science fiction as a whole.[4] R.U.R. soon became influential after its publication.[5][6][7] By 1923 it had been translated into thirty languages.[5][8] R.U.R. was successful in its time in Europe and North America.[9] Čapek later took a different approach to the same theme in his 1936 novel War with the Newts, in which non-humans become a servant-class in human society.[10]


The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people, called roboti (robots) who humans have created from synthetic organic matter. (As living creatures of artificial flesh and blood rather than machinery, the play's concept of robots diverges from the idea of "robots" as inorganic. Later terminology would call them androids.) Robots may be mistaken for humans and can think for themselves. Initially happy to work for humans, the robots revolt and cause the extinction of the human race.


The robots breaking into the factory at the end of Act III
The robots breaking into the factory at the end of Act III

Parentheses indicate names which vary according to translation. On the meaning of the names, see Ivan Klíma, Karel Čapek: Life and Work, 2002, p. 82.


  • Harry Domin (Domain): General Manager, R.U.R.
  • Fabry: Chief Engineer, R.U.R.
  • Dr. Gall: Head of the Physiological Department, R.U.R.
  • Dr. Hellman (Hallemeier): Psychologist-in-Chief
  • Jacob Berman (Busman): Managing Director, R.U.R.
  • Alquist: Clerk of the Works, R.U.R.
  • Helena Glory: President of the Humanity League, daughter of President Glory
  • Emma (Nana): Helena's maid

Robots and robotesses

  • Marius, a robot
  • Sulla, a robotess
  • Radius, a robot
  • Primus, a robot
  • Helena, a robotess
  • Daemon (Damon), a robot


Act I

Poster for a Federal Theatre Project production of R.U.R. directed by Remo Bufano in New York, 1939
Poster for a Federal Theatre Project production of R.U.R. directed by Remo Bufano in New York, 1939

Helena, the daughter of the president of a major industrial power, arrives at the island factory of Rossum's Universal Robots. Here, she meets Domin, the General Manager of R.U.R., who relates to her the history of the company. Rossum had come to the island in 1920 to study marine biology. In 1932, Rossum had invented a substance like organic matter, though with a different chemical composition. He argued with his nephew about their motivations for creating artificial life. While the elder wanted to create animals to prove or disprove the existence of God, his nephew only wanted to become rich. Young Rossum finally locked away his uncle in a lab to play with the monstrosities he had created and created thousands of robots. By the time the play takes place (circa the year 2000),[11] robots are cheap and available all over the world. They have become essential for industry.

After meeting the heads of R.U.R., Helena reveals that she is a representative of the League of Humanity, an organization that wishes to liberate the robots. The managers of the factory find this absurd. They see robots as appliances. Helena asks that the robots be paid, but according to R.U.R. management, the robots do not "like" anything.

Eventually Helena is convinced that the League of Humanity is a waste of money, but still argues robots have a "soul". Later, Domin confesses that he loves Helena and forces her into an engagement.

Act II

Ten years have passed. Helena and her nurse Nana discuss current events, the decline in human births in particular. Helena and Domin reminisce about the day they met and summarize the last ten years of world history, which has been shaped by the new worldwide robot-based economy. Helena meets Dr. Gall's new experiment, Radius. Dr. Gall describes his experimental robotess, also named Helena. Both are more advanced, fully-featured robots. In secret, Helena burns the formula required to create robots. The revolt of the robots reaches Rossum's island as the act ends.


Final scene of Act III
Final scene of Act III

The characters sense that the very universality of the robots presents a danger. Echoing the story of the Tower of Babel, the characters discuss whether creating national robots who were unable to communicate beyond their languages would have been a good idea. As robot forces lay siege to the factory, Helena reveals she has burned the formula necessary to make new robots. The characters lament the end of humanity and defend their actions, despite the fact that their imminent deaths are a direct result of their choices. Busman is killed while attempting to negotiate a peace with the robots. The robots storm the factory and kill all the humans except for Alquist, the company's chief engineer. The robots spare him because they recognize that "he works with his hands like the robots."[12]


Years have passed. Alquist, who still lives, attempts to recreate the formula that Helena destroyed. He is a mechanical engineer, though, with insufficient knowledge of biochemistry, so he has made little progress. The robot government has searched for surviving humans to help Alquist and found none alive. Officials from the robot government beg him to complete the formula, even if it means he will have to kill and dissect other robots for it. Alquist yields. He will kill and dissect robots, thus completing the circle of violence begun in Act Two. Alquist is disgusted. Robot Primus and Helena develop human feelings and fall in love. Playing a hunch, Alquist threatens to dissect Primus and then Helena; each begs him to take him- or herself and spare the other. Alquist now realizes that Primus and Helena are the new Adam and Eve, and gives charge of the world to them.

Čapek's conception of robots

U.S. WPA Federal Theatre Project poster for the production by the Marionette Theatre, New York, 1939
U.S. WPA Federal Theatre Project poster for the production by the Marionette Theatre, New York, 1939

The robots described in Čapek's play are not robots in the popularly understood sense of an automaton. They are not mechanical devices, but rather artificial biological organisms that may be mistaken for humans. A comic scene at the beginning of the play shows Helena arguing with her future husband, Harry Domin, because she cannot believe his secretary is a robotess:

DOMIN: Sulla, let Miss Glory have a look at you.
HELENA: (stands and offers her hand) Pleased to meet you. It must be very hard for you out here, cut off from the rest of the world.
SULLA: I do not know the rest of the world Miss Glory. Please sit down.
HELENA: (sits) Where are you from?
SULLA: From here, the factory.
HELENA: Oh, you were born here.
SULLA: Yes I was made here.
HELENA: (startled) What?
DOMIN: (laughing) Sulla isn't a person, Miss Glory, she's a robot.
HELENA: Oh, please forgive me...

His robots resemble more modern conceptions of man-made life forms, such as the Replicants in Blade Runner, the "hosts" in the Westworld TV series and the humanoid Cylons in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, but in Čapek's time there was no conception of modern genetic engineering (DNA's role in heredity was not confirmed until 1952). There are descriptions of kneading-troughs for robot skin, great vats for liver and brains, and a factory for producing bones. Nerve fibers, arteries, and intestines are spun on factory bobbins, while the robots themselves are assembled like automobiles.[13] Čapek's robots are living biological beings, but they are still assembled, as opposed to grown or born.

One critic has described Čapek's robots as epitomizing "the traumatic transformation of modern society by the First World War and the Fordist assembly line."[13]

Origin of the word "robot"

The play introduced the word robot, which displaced older words such as "automaton" or "android" in languages around the world. In an article in Lidové noviny, Karel Čapek named his brother Josef as the true inventor of the word.[14][15] In Czech, robota means forced labour of the kind that serfs had to perform on their masters' lands and is derived from rab, meaning "slave".[16]

The name Rossum is an allusion to the Czech word rozum, meaning "reason", "wisdom", "intellect" or "common sense".[10] It has been suggested that the allusion might be preserved by translating "Rossum" as "Reason" but only the Majer/Porter version translates the word as "Reason".[17]

Production history

Cover of the first edition of the play designed by Josef Čapek, Aventinum, Prague, 1920
Cover of the first edition of the play designed by Josef Čapek, Aventinum, Prague, 1920

The work was published in Prague by Aventinum in 1920, after being postponed, and, premiered at the city's National Theatre on 25 January 1921, although an amateur group had by then already presented a production.[notes 1]

R.U.R. was translated from Czech into English by Paul Selver and adapted for the stage in English by Nigel Playfair in 1923. Selver's translation abridged the play and eliminated a character, a robot named "Damon".[18] In April 1923 Basil Dean produced R.U.R. for the Reandean Company at St Martin's Theatre, London.[19]

The American première was at the Garrick Theatre in New York City in October 1922, where it ran for 184 performances, a production in which Spencer Tracy and Pat O'Brien played robots in their Broadway debuts.[20]

It also played in Chicago and Los Angeles during 1923.[21] In the late 1930s, the play was staged in the U.S. by the Federal Theatre Project's Marionette Theatre in New York.

In 1989, a new, unabridged translation by Claudia Novack-Jones restored the elements of the play eliminated by Selver.[18][22] Another unabridged translation was produced by Peter Majer and Cathy Porter for Methuen Drama in 1999.[17]

Critical reception

Reviewing the New York production of R.U.R., The Forum magazine described the play as "thought-provoking" and "a highly original thriller".[23] John Clute has lauded R.U.R. as "a play of exorbitant wit and almost demonic energy" and lists the play as one of the "classic titles" of inter-war science fiction.[24] Luciano Floridi has described the play thus: "Philosophically rich and controversial, R.U.R. was unanimously acknowledged as a masterpiece from its first appearance, and has become a classic of technologically dystopian literature."[25] Jarka M. Burien called R.U.R. a "theatrically effective, prototypal sci-fi melodrama".[9]

On the other hand, Isaac Asimov, author of the Robot series of books and creator of the Three Laws of Robotics, stated: "Capek's play is, in my own opinion, a terribly bad one, but it is immortal for that one word. It contributed the word 'robot' not only to English but, through English, to all the languages in which science fiction is now written."[4] In fact, Asimov's "Laws of Robotics" are specifically and explicitly designed to prevent the kind of situation depicted in R.U.R. – since Asimov's Robots are created with a built-in total inhibition against harming human beings or disobeying them.


  • On 11 February 1938, a 35-minute adaptation of a section of the play was broadcast on BBC Television—the first piece of television science-fiction ever to be broadcast.[26]
  • In 1941, BBC radio presented a radio play version,[27] and in 1948, another television adaptation—this time of the entire play, running to 90 minutes—was screened by the BBC. In this version, Radius was played by Patrick Troughton who was later the second actor to play The Doctor in Doctor Who.[28] None of these three productions survives in the BBC's archives. BBC Radio 3 dramatised the play again in 1989, and this version has been released commercially.[29]
  • The Hollywood Theater of the Ear dramatized an unabridged audio version of R.U.R. which is available on the collection 2000x: Tales of the Next Millennia.[30][31]
  • In August 2010, Portuguese multi-media artist Leonel Moura's R.U.R.: The Birth of the Robot, inspired by the Čapek play, was performed at Itaú Cultural in São Paulo, Brazil. It utilized actual robots on stage interacting with the human actors.[32]
  • An electro-rock musical, Save The Robots is based on R.U.R., featuring the music of the New York City pop-punk art-rock band Hagatha.[33] This version with book and adaptation by E. Ether, music by Rob Susman, and lyrics by Clark Render was an official selection of the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival season.[34]
  • On 26 November 2015 The RUR-Play: Prologue, the world's first version of R.U.R. with robots appearing in all the roles, was presented during the robot performance festival of Cafe Neu Romance at the gallery of the National Library of Technology in Prague.[35][36][37] The concept and initiative for the play came from Christian Gjørret, leader of "Vive Les Robots!" [38] who, on 29 January 2012, during a meeting with Steven Canvin of LEGO Group, presented the proposal to Lego, that supported the piece with the LEGO MINDSTORMS robotic kit. The robots were built and programmed by students from the R.U.R team from Gymnázium Jeseník. The play was directed by Filip Worm and the team was led by Roman Chasák, both teachers from the Gymnázium Jeseník.[39][40]

In popular culture

See also


Informational notes

  1. ^ The world premiere was planned to be in the National Theater in Prague, but had to be postponed to 25 January 1921. The amateur theater group Klicpera in Hradec Králové, which was supposed to mount a production after the premiere, as not informed about the date change in the National Theater, so their opening night on 2 January 1921 was the actual world premiere. See: Databáze amatérského divadla, soubor Klicpera


  1. ^ Roberts, Adam (2006). The History of Science Fiction. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-333-97022-5.
  2. ^ Kussi, Peter. Toward the Radical Center: A Čapek Reader. (33).
  3. ^ Kubařová, Petra (3 February 2021) "Světová premiéra R.U.R. byla před 100 lety v Hradci Králové" ("The world premiere of RUR was 100 years ago in Hradec Králové") University of Hradci Králové
  4. ^ a b Asimov, Isaac (September 1979). "The Vocabulary of Science Fiction". Asimov's Science Fiction.
  5. ^ a b Voyen Koreis. "Capek's RUR". Archived from the original on 23 December 2013. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  6. ^ Madigan, Tim (July–August 2012). "RUR or RU Ain't A Person?". Philosophy Now. Archived from the original on 3 February 2013. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
  7. ^ Rubin, Charles T. (2011). "Machine Morality and Human Responsibility". The New Atlantis. Archived from the original on 26 October 2013. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
  8. ^ "Ottoman Turkish Translation of R.U.R. – Library Details" (in Turkish). Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
  9. ^ a b Burien, Jarka M. (2007) "Čapek, Karel" in Gabrielle H. Cody, Evert Sprinchorn (eds.) The Columbia Encyclopedia of Modern Drama, Volume One. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 224–225. ISBN 0231144229
  10. ^ a b Roberts, Adam "Introduction", to RUR & War with the Newts. London, Gollancz, 2011, ISBN 0575099453 (pp. vi–ix).
  11. ^ According to the poster for the play's opening in 1921; see Klima, Ivan (2004) "Introduction" to R.U.R., Penguin Classics
  12. ^ Čapek, Karel (2001). R.U.R.. translated by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair. Dover Publications. p. 49.
  13. ^ a b Rieder, John "Karl Čapek" in Mark Bould (ed.) (2010) Fifty Key Figures in Science Fiction. London, Routledge. ISBN 9780415439503. pp. 47–51.
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  15. ^ Margolius, Ivan (Autumn 2017) "The Robot of Prague" Archived 11 September 2017 at the Wayback Machine The Friends of Czech Heritage Newsletter no. 17, pp.3-6
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  19. ^ Cornis-Pope, Marcel; Neubauer, John (20 May 2004). History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe: Junctures and Disjunctures in the 19th and 20th Centuries. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 9027234558. Archived from the original on 13 March 2017. Retrieved 20 May 2020 – via Google Books.
  20. ^ Corbin, John (10 October 1922). "A Czecho-Slovak Frankenstein". New York Times. p. 16/1.; R.U.R (1922 production) at the Internet Broadway Database
    "Spencer Tracy Biography". Archived from the original on 8 September 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2013.
    Swindell, Larry. Spencer Tracy: A Biography. New American Library. pp. 40–42.
  21. ^ Butler, Sheppard (16 April 1923). "R.U.R.: A Satiric Nightmare". Chicago Daily Tribune. p. 21.; "Rehearsals in Progress for 'R.U.R.' Opening". Los Angeles Times. 24 November 1923. p. I13.
  22. ^ Kussi, Peter, ed. (1990). Toward the Radical Center: A Karel Čapek Reader. Highland Park, New Jersey: Catbird Press. pp. 34–109. ISBN 0-945774-06-0.
  23. ^ Holt, Roland (November 1922) "Plays Tender and Tough". pp. 970–976. The Forum
  24. ^ Clute, John (1995). Science Fiction: The Illustrated Encyclopedia. Dorling Kindersley. pp. 119, 214. ISBN 0-7513-0202-3.
  25. ^ Floridi, Luciano (2002) Philosophy and Computing: An Introduction. Taylor & Francis. p.207. ISBN 0203015312
  26. ^ Telotte, J. P. (2008). The essential science fiction television reader. University Press of Kentucky. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-8131-2492-6. Archived from the original on 13 March 2017.
  27. ^ "R.u.r." Radio Times. No. 938. 19 September 1941. p. 7. ISSN 0033-8060. Archived from the original on 17 February 2017. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  28. ^ "R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots)". Radio Times. No. 1272. 27 February 1948. p. 27. ISSN 0033-8060. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  29. ^ "R.U.R.(Rossum's Universal Robots)". Internet Archive. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
  30. ^ "2000x: Tales of the Next Millennia". Archived from the original on 10 May 2013. Retrieved 29 July 2013.
  31. ^ 2000X: Tales of the Next Millennia. ISBN 1-57453-530-7.
  32. ^ "Itaú Cultural: Emoção Art.ficial "2010 Schedule"". Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  33. ^ "Save The Robots the Musical Summary". Archived from the original on 14 July 2014.
  34. ^ "Save The Robots: NYMF Developmental Reading Series 2014". Archived from the original on 17 June 2014. Retrieved 13 June 2014.
  35. ^ "Cafe Neu Romance – CNR 2015: Live: Vive Les Robots (DNK): The RUR-Play: Prologue". Archived from the original on 3 April 2016. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  36. ^ "VIDEO: Poprvé bez lidí. Roboti zcela ovládli Čapkovu hru R.U.R." 27 November 2015. Archived from the original on 26 March 2016. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  37. ^ "Entertainment Czech Republic Robots | AP Archive". Archived from the original on 29 March 2016. Retrieved 19 March 2016.
  38. ^ "Christian Gjørret on robot & performance festival Café Neu Romance".
  39. ^ "VIDEO: Poprvé bez lidí. Roboti zcela ovládli Čapkovu hru R.U.R." 27 November 2015.
  40. ^ "Gymnázium Jeseník si zapsalo jedinečné světové prvenství v historii robotiky i umění".
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External links

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