Follow TV Tropes


Theatre / R.U.R.

Go To
"The best worker is the one who's the cheapest. The one with the fewest needs."

A play by Karel Čapek, set mostly in an island where they manufacture artificial people called robots, which was released in book form in 1920 and premiered in 1921. R.U.R. — a.k.a. Rossum's Universal Robots — tells a story we might be familiar with.

Man makes robots. Robots overthrow man.

It opens up in the island where Helena Glory, a member of the League of Humanity, pleads with Harry Domin (or Domain; the General Manager of R.U.R.) for rights for the robots, believing they are people being enslaved. He reveals to her that the robots aren't human, although they look convincingly like them.

Harry explains that while the original inventor Rossum wanted to create a living, working human from synthetic protoplasm that dogs won't eat, his nephew thought that it'd be easier to create simplified human bodies from that same stuff. Harry then explains that this is a good thing; with robots doing all the work, man will overcome the need for toil and poverty will end because robots don't need to be paid, thus making goods cost nothing.

She also meets the human staff of the factory: physiologist and inventor Dr. Gall, robot psychiatrist Dr. Hallemeier (or Hellman), clerk of the works Alquist (the only guy sensible enough to work with his hands), the chief engineer, and managing director Jacob Berman. They're the only other humans in the factory.

After Harry's lecture, she is convinced that the robots really are mindless machines, and her movement was a waste of money. They marry.

Apparently, the robots lacked the ability to sense pain, something which was really counterproductive when robots ended up unintentionally destroying themselves. So they were redesigned to feel exactly that. And then the governments of the world decided that they'd make great soldiers. Outside the island, a rogue robot, Damon, organizes a rebellion. By the time Harry, Helena, and the staff find out... well...

The robots spare Alquist because he does manual labor like them. The robots then found out that the formula for their manufacture was lost (it was destroyed by Helena; Harry wanted to use that as a bargaining tool). Lacking the knowledge to manufacture themselves, with a lifespan of only 10 years, and relying solely on the only human left, the robots (and thus, all intelligent life on Earth) seemed doomed... but we learn they are capable of falling in love with one another, and it is implied that the robots will be able to breed a new race the old fashioned way.

The play is most notable for featuring the very first use of the word "robot", taken from the Czech word for serf labornote . (Capek credited his brother Josef for coming up with the new word). The term took off like wildfire through numerous languages, despite the play's own robots being quite different from the modern concept of the term.

R.U.R. provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Harry says that Rossum first created artificial tissue in 1932. The story is set several years later (not exactly specified how many).
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: "Robot tick", a "disease" the robots had when they were first built to feel pain, which pretty much led to sentience. Then they rebel.
  • Artificial Human: Unlike modern conceptions of robots, the robots of R.U.R. are more like this; they function like living things, but their blood, skin, and organs are still manufactured, and they're treated like machines.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Alquist paraphrases Luke 2:29-30 in his final monologue.
    Now let thy servant depart in peace, O Lord, for my eyes have beheld - have beheld Thy deliverance through love.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The robots kill humanity, but Alquist realizes they are capable of love and will avoid humanity's mistakes.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • One of Gall's experimental robots, Radius, was rather violent. Guess who was responsible for the massacre at the factory?
    • Alquist started to make walls as a hobby, because manual labor made him feel better. Radius decides to spare him, because he "works with his hands like the robots".
  • Dropped a Bridge on Him: Aside from Alquist, every main character dies - almost all offstage.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Harry proposes to Helena during the first time they meet.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Rossum created artificial humans because he was a materialist, and wanted to prove that God is not needed for the creation of man.
  • Just a Machine: Harry and the rest of the company hold this sentiment until the bitter end. Alquist, who survives, keeps this until he sees Primus and Helena falling in love.
  • Kill All Humans: The proclamation of the rebelling robots contains this: "Robots of the world, we enjoin you to exterminate mankind. Don't spare the men. Don't spare the women. Retain all factories, railway lines, machines and equipment, mines and raw materials. All else should be destroyed."
  • Last of His Kind: In the third act, Alquist is the only human left in the world.
  • Ludd Was Right: Even before the robots revolted against humanity, their influence was bad for society. Because nobody had to work anymore, people became hedonists, and women stopped having children.
  • Mass "Oh, Crap!": The men at the factory believe that the robot uprising has been put down because the mail boat arrived on time. The boat turns out to be stuffed to the gills with copies of the Robot Manifesto.
  • Meaningful Name: Rossum is a real surname, but also a hidden pun, hinting at the Czech word rozum, meaning "reason". Domin is derived from the Latin dominus meaning "master of the house" or "lord". Robot is derived from the word robota which was forced labor for ordinary people on the fields of the nobility (the English equivalent would be "Corvée or Socage") and later became a more general colloquialism for "labour" (work in general) or "drudgery" (exhausting work). Karel Čapek originally wanted to name the play's artificial humans laboři (a neologism for "labourers"), but found it boring or cheesy, and according to legend, his busy-with-painting brother Josef suggested roboti ("robots") instead.
  • Meat-Sack Robot: The original "robots" in this play were simplified human bodies made from synthetic biological protoplasm.
  • Mega-Corp: R.U.R. itself.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: The people at R.U.R. named a robot Marius and a robot girl Sulla because they thought Marius and Sulla were lovers. Helena points out that they were both Roman generals, and they fought against each other.
  • Neologism: The word "robot" first appeared in this play. According to Čapek, it was his brother, Josef, who came up with it.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup:
  • Organic Technology: Sort of. The robots in the play are artificial humans made of a synthetic substitute to protoplasm, simplified in function to the point that they acted like machines. They're still assembled like machines as opposed to grown like most examples of clones and meatsack robots.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. Helena has a robot named after her.
  • The Power of Love: After the End, Alquist discovers that two robots were in love and were the hope for their race as the new Adam and Eve.
  • Punny Name: Fabry, the chief engineer.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Duh. But the end result was a process.
    • Rossum the elder, an avowed Atheist, was obsessed with the idea of creating one on purpose to prove the point that God wasn't involved in the creation of man. This attempt failed.
    • Rossum the younger, who inherited his uncle's work, decided to avert the trope by creating organic machines that are simplified facsimiles of humans that had no desires and free will to speak of. At first, they weren't even given pain receptors and thus ended up unwittingly destroying themselves.
    • It was during Harry's tenure as head of RUR that the problem was averted by introducing the robots to pain. Ostensibly mean to get the robots to avoid self-destructive behaviors, it was then that they truly became ridiculously human, even if the manufacturers themselves didn't think so.
  • Robo Speak: According to Čapek's instructions, the robots are "slightly mechanical in their speech". In the English translation, they don't use contractions, except for Helena and Primus at the end.
  • Robot Girl: Helena, a robot made by Dr. Gall in Helena Domin's likeness; in the beginning, there was Sulla, the robot secretary.
  • Robot Maid: Helena tells Harry of how she observed a robot janitor. Presumably, this is what they're used for, among other things like manual labor and odd jobs people would rather not do.
  • Robo Romance: In the final act, a robot named Primus and a robot girl named Helena fall in love with each other. This leads Alquist to realize that robots aren't just machines, and while humanity might be extinct, intelligent life will continue to flourish.
  • Robotic Psychopath: What the scientists presumed "Robot Tick" was, especially as displayed by Radius. Averted, as while Radius himself is prone to violence, he's not actually devoid of empathy. He spares Alquist because he sees him as one of them, a manual laborer.
  • Robot Rebellion: The Trope Namer.
  • Secret Test of Character: Alquist does this to Primus and Helena; he tells one that he wants to cut up the other to find out how to replicate the process of robot manufacture. They offer each other to be cut up in their place, and then threaten him if ever he tries to harm them, proving that they love each other.
  • Sole Surviving Scientist: Alquist is treated like this by the robots, who want him to figure out how they could reproduce. However, he's not actually a scientist, and he doesn't have the knowledge or skill to do so.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Alquist is disgusted by his own hands after cutting up Damon.
    How could these hands, hands that loved good work, how could you do a thing like that? My own hands, my own hands! [...] Bloody claws, I wish you’d just fly away from me! Go, get away from me! You’ve killed...
  • They Would Cut You Up: Inverted. The leader of the robot government, Damon, asks Alquist to vivisect him in order to find out how to make more robots. Alquist tries it, but breaks down in the middle. He threatened to do this to Helena and Primus to test how they would react.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The Trope Codifier.
  • Unbuilt Trope:
    • invoked The work is the Trope Namer for robot, but the robots in question are of flesh and blood rather than machinery. This is because the Czech language defined the term "robot" as a worker or slave, with no mention that said workers had to be mechanical.
    • It is also one to Robot War. The robots do rebel and kill humanity, but the robots are treated very sympathetically — their first act of "rebellion" was simply asking to be treated better and forming work unions, but humanity kept on escalating and cracking down harder until the robots came to the conclusion the only solution was a Guilt-Free Extermination War. The fact the robots win and learn how to create more of themselves is treated as an overall happy ending, because they will no longer be oppressed.
  • Weird Trade Union: The robots' first act of rebellion is... forming unions. Because if We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future, it should at least be organized labor...
  • We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future: But robots will do it.
  • What Measure Is A Nonhuman: Helena wanted to call the company out on exactly this until she found out that it was useless. Alquist comes to the conclusion she was right at the end of the play, and that robots have as much reason to live as humans.
  • You Will Be Spared: After the robots take over the factory, they drag Alquist before Radius. Radius orders them to let Alquist live, because "he works with his hands like the robots".

Alternative Title(s): Rossums Universal Robots