Rur Summary

Karel Čapek


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Rur Summary

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R.U.R., by the Czech playwright Karel Čapek is a three-act play with an epilogue. The play begins with Domin, the General Manager of R.U.R.—a company that makes robots. He is a he’s dictating letters when Helena Glory arrives to inspect the facility. Helena is the daughter of the company’s president, and Domin believes she’s there as his representative. Domin introduces Helena to Sulla, who is a robot—though Helena cannot believe it. She questions Sulla, and concludes that she must be human, so Domin offers to dissect Sulla and prove that she is a robot. Helena is horrified that Sulla is willing to be sacrificed.

A group of characters burst into the scene—Busman, Hallemeier, Gall, Fabry, and Alquist—and Helena assumes they’re all robots. She informs them that she’s come to save them from exploitation. When she finds out that they aren’t robots, but doctors and managers of the site, she’s embarrassed. The characters discuss the manufacture of robots, which are cheap to create. They’re also able to complete human tasks more cheaply. R.U.R. strives to create a world in which robots replace humans in the workforce, and produce an immense amount of food and goods.

R.U.R. thinks of this society as a kind of Eden, but there are some concerns that mirror the ethical dilemmas of slavery. Robots break down. R.U.R. plans  to install pain receptors. The humans who create them develop a god complex.

Act one closes with Helena being invited to luncheon with the others. When they leave, Domin confesses that he’s in love with Helena. He asks her to marry him, and they kiss. The audience is left to assume that she consented.

The second act begins ten years later. Domin is worried because there has been no news from abroad. Several days have passed without mail, telephone calls, or boats. Even more worrisome is that the last news he received was about the robots rebelling. Meanwhile, the men at R.U.R. have brought gifts for Helena, to celebrate her ten years on the island. Helena talks often with her servant, Nana. Both women are fearful of the robots. Even the animals on the island, including a dog, seem to sense something unnatural is going on.

Radius, a robot, rebels. Dr. Gall, who designed Radius, gave it a more advanced brain than the other robots and it no longer takes orders. When Gall examines Radius and learns the robot has become human in several ways, he wants to have it destroyed. Helena saves Radius from destruction. Dr. Gall is planning to design robots that suit every culture and race across the globe, so Helena and Nana burn his manufacturing notes. Those notes were being kept as a last resort to control the robots. However, Helena is unable to reveal to the doctors and managers that she burned the notes because, just then, a ship arrives. While they think it’s a ship carrying mail, it’s actually carrying the message that the robots are revolting all over the world. Act two ends with the robots taking control of the boat and the house.

Act three opens later that same day. The robots have imprisoned Domin, Helena, Nana, and the doctors and managers. Helena reveals that she burned the notes, but that’s not the only revelation. Dr. Gall tells the others that he’s been building souls into the robots for three years, and Helena confesses that it was at her request. Almost 300 robots have been improved by Gall, and the humans assume it is these robots leading the rebellion. Because the robots were made in man’s image, they also possess the capacity to hate as men hate. The humans contemplate their possible escape options, and Busman goes outside to try to negotiate with Radius. He thinks he can bribe Radius with money, but he dies when he touches the electric fence.

The robots attack the house; Domin and Helena retreat to another room. Gall, Hallemeier, and Fabry are all murdered. Alquist is enslaved by the robots.

The epilogue begins one year after the robots took over the island. Alquist is trying—and failing—to recreate the formula to make more robots. All the other humans on earth have died. Robots, with their short lifespans, are dying. Radius offers to sacrifice himself to dissection so that Alquist can create more robots, but Alquist collapses. Two robots enter the scene—Primus and Helena. They’re different from the other robots. Able to emote and empathize, animals do not fear them. Alquist wakes and realizes this. He also learns that they care for each other. They defend one another. So, he calls them new Adam and new Eve and sends them out into the world.

R.U.R., which stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots (Rossum was the scientist whose notes the human Helena burned), was first performed in 1921. It was well-received and earned Čapek renown; critics were fascinated by the destruction of humanity by technology depicted in Čapek’s play.