Père Ubu is a monstrous inversion of Hello Kitty, bibliographing nicole boldly declares, and how can I not agree? The character of Pa Ubu is Alfred Jarry’s greatest creation. If Ubu is not as ubu-iqitous as Don Quixote or Faust or Falstaff, to pick some precedents, characters who escaped their creators, it is because the 20th century avant garde has so ruthlessly cannibalized him.
Pa Ubu is a titanic comic monster, a braggart and coward like Falstaff but somehow simultaneously an unstoppable, invulnerable murderer. He massacres his enemies but also poisons his allies:
He holds an unmentionable brush in his hand and hurls it at the gathering.
PA UBU. Try a taste of that. (Several taste and collapse poisoned.) Now pass me the spare ribs of Polish bison, Mother, and I’ll dish them out.
PA UBU. You’re still here? By my green candle, I’ll do you in with bison ribs.
He begins to throw them.
ALL. Ooh! Ow! Help, rescue! Let’s stick up for ourselves! Curses! He’s done for me. (Ubu Roi, I.3., Connolly and Taylor)
Then Pa complains that he has “had a lousy meal”!
I should ask the other Ubu readers – how often is Pa Ubu terrifying? Plenty of times, says I. The massacres of the nobles in Ubu Roi, for example, scene III.2., when what begins as lust for money and power turns into or reveals itself as something more horrifying, more empty. “Isn’t injustice just as good as justice?” Ubu asks in the preceding scene, and he means it, as much as he means anything. When, in Ubu Cocu, Ubu stuffs his conscience and anyone else he can get his hands down the toilet, I thought not “How horrible” but “Of course.”
Despite the loudness of his brutality, Pa Ubu frequently reminded me of the silent Harpo Marx. Both characters are agents of chaos. So are Groucho and Chico, but they are restrained by intelligence and stupidity, respectively. Harpo is the one who is not quite human. Harpo is the troll.
Rise links Ubu Roi to the dictator novel. As you can see, I read the Ubu plays and think of Duck Soup. Thinking of Idi Amin is too frightening.
I suppose if I have been disappointed by Jarry, it is that he created only one great character. Ma Ubu has her moments – she starts strong, for example, as a sort of idiotic Lady Macbeth – but is undefined compared to Pa Ubu. A thoughtful reader might point me to – or, even better, write – a feminist counter to Jarry, Hedda Gabler crossed with Lady Macbeth strained through Brecht’s, or Grimmelshausen’s, Mother Courage. Winnie, in Beckett’s Happy Days, might be a useful reference. All I seem to be able to do is list other works and characters.