Filed under: The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art
Best known for his play Ubu Roi (1896), which is often cited as a forerunner to the theatre of the absurd, Jarry wrote in a variety of genres and styles. He wrote plays, novels, poetry, essays and speculative journalism. His texts present some pioneering work in the field of absurdist literature. Sometimes grotesque or misunderstood (i.e. the opening line in his play Ubu Roi, “Merdre!”, has been translated into English as “Shittr!”, “Shikt!”, and “Pschitt!”), he invented a science called ‘pataphysics.
Biography and works
A precociously brilliant student, Jarry enthralled his classmates with a gift for pranks and troublemaking.
At the lycée in Rennes when he was 15, he led of a group of boys who devoted much time and energy to poking fun at their well-meaning, obese and incompetent physics teacher, a man named Hébert. Jarry and classmate Charles Morin wrote a play they called Les Polonais and performed it with marionettes in the home of one of their friends. The main character, Père Heb, was a blunderer with a huge belly; three teeth (one of stone, one of iron, and one of wood); a single, retractable ear; and a misshapen body. In Jarry’s later work Ubu Roi, Père Heb would develop into Ubu, one of the most monstrous and astonishing characters in French literature.