R.U.R. - Rossum's Universal Robots

by Karel Čapek
Reviewed date: 2018 Feb 7
Translated by David Wyllie
cover art
cover art

R.U.R. is famous for introducing the word robot. So I thought I'd read it. It's not great, but it's not bad either. There are some great moments.

I read the translation by David Wyllie.

Introductory Scene
Helena Glory visits Rossum's factory, where General Directory Harry Domin explains the concept of robots. It began when old Rossum discovered a simplified life principle, and young Rossum took that principle and created robots: synthetic men who work tirelessly and ceaselessly for no pay. The factory is churning out fifteen thousand of these robots each day. This new work force will soon sweep the world and free mankind from toil, to hear Domin explain the vision. Helena reveals that she is from the League of Humanity and intends to free the robots from their slavery. Domin indulges her, then explains that the robots have no soul, no wants, no creativity, no desires.

Helena feels a bit silly. Domin proposes marriage. Helena refuses. Domin insists. She fights him off. He still insists. Then it's time for breakfast.

Act I
Ten years later. Helena is married to Domin. Far from ushering in a new epoch of wealth and leisure, robots have caused war. Massive armies of robots are waging war across the world, killing countless robots and humans. What's more, the human birth rate has dropped to zero. Now the robots have staged a revolution, taken over the world, and decided to kill all humans.

Act II
Our heroes are holed up in the factory while the robots lay siege. They discuss their failed visions for the world.

Domin: (agitated) The Devil take their dividends! Do you think I’d have spent an hour of my time for their sakes? (thumping table) I did it for myself, d’you hear? For my own satisfaction! I wanted mankind to become his own master! I wanted him not to have to live just for the next crust of bread! I wanted not a single soul to have to go stupid standing at somebody else’s machines! I wanted to leave nothing - nothing! - left of this damned mess that society’s in! I hate seeing humiliation and pain all around us, I hate poverty! I wanted to start a new generation! I wanted to . . . I thought that . . .

Alquist: What?

Domin: (quieter) I wanted mankind to become an aristocracy of the world. Free, unconstrained, sovereign. Maybe even something higher than human.

Helena burns the only manuscript containing Rossum's secret formula of life, without which no more robots can be manufactured. The men, not realizing, decide to barter with the robots: the secret of life for their lives. But Helena's actions have already doomed them. Robots storm the factory. All but Alquist are killed.

Radius: (steps up onto barricades) Robots of the world! Many humans have fallen. We have taken the factory and we are masters of the world. The era of man has come to its end. A new epoch has arisen! Domination by robots!

Alquist: All dead!

Radius: The world belongs to the strongest. Who wishes to live must dominate. We are masters of the world! Masters on land and sea! Masters of the stars! Masters of the universe! More space, more space for robots!

Alquist: (at doorway, right) What do you think you’ve done? You’ll all die without people!

Radius: There are no people. Robots, down to work! March!


Robots rule the world but are unable to manufacture more of themselves. Alquist is the only human left. The robots force him to work, trying to re-create the formula for robotic life.

Damon: The Central Committee of Robots orders you to hand over Rossum’s formula.

Alquist: (doesn’t respond)

Damon: Tell us your price. We will pay you anything.

2. Robot: Tell us how to maintain life, sir.

Alquist: I’ve told you . . . I’ve told you time and again that you need to find some people. It’s only people that can procreate, renew life, put things back to how they used to be. Robots, for God’s sake, I beg of you, go out and look for them.

4. Robot: We have looked everywhere. There are no people.

Alquist: Ohhh, why did you destroy them?!

2. Robot: We wanted to be like people. We wanted to become people.

Radius: We wanted to live. We are more capable. We have learned everything. We can do everything.

3. Robot: You gave us weapons. We had to become the masters.

Robot: We have seen the mistakes made by the people, sir.

Damon: To be like people, it is necessary to kill and to dominate. Read the history books. Read the books written by people. To be like people it is necessary to dominate and to murder.

Alquist: Ah, Domin, there’s nothing less like mankind than his image.

Robot Primus and Robot Helena are the latest model. They are becoming more human. They have wants, desires. They love life, see beauty. They sleep, and dream. Robot Primus boasts of his strength and compliments Helena's beauty. Helena waxes eloquent about playing with puppies. Robot Helena fixes up her hair. They fall in love.

Alquist realizes these two robots have become people.

Alquist: (whisper) Wherever you like. Helena, take him away. (pushes her out) Go on your way, Adam. Go on your way, Eve. You will be his wife. You, Primus, will be her husband.

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