Some contemporary views of R.U.R.

From Ashley Dukes (essay date 1923):
     Day-to-day work is stamped with a certain fleeting character that

cannot be disguised.  So it is with the work of Karel Capek,
and with _R.U.R._ in particular.
    The sensations of his play are epic, magnificent. What
headlines they would make! What headlines, in fact, they do make!
"Rossum's Universal Robots -- Men Manufactured -- Too Old at
Twenty -- Seekers After Souls -- the Fight for the Formula --
Revolt of the Robots -- Nature Set at Naught."  And how
absorbing, too, are the questions that the author raises!  
*  Are Robots right or wrong?
*  Is Progress wrong?
*  Should Robots fight for men or only work for them?
*  Should Robots vote?
*  Should Robots have a soul?
    In every question there is matter for an autumn newspaper
correspondence, if not an election address. . . .The question of the
desirability of progress is an interesting one if only Mr. Capek
would not obscure it with his confounded dramatic sense.  But, of
course, we ought to be grateful for that quality. His dramatic sense 
is the lifeblood of _R.U.R._  For my part, the author may keep his
questions and the answers to them, if he only shows us towering 
factories built by Robots, swung on cranes, and Robots looming up
gigantic at the window against a flaming sky, and Robots chanting
their cry for a posterity as they advance in regular formation and
rhythmic gestures.  These dramatic pictures have a certain style
and importance.
THE NEW YORK EVENING SUN, October 10th, 1922.
    . . .Like H. G. Wells of an earlier day, the dramatist frees his 
imagination and lets it soar away without restraint and his audience
is only too delighted to go along on a trip that exceeds even Jules Verne's
wildest dreams.  The Guild has put theatregoers in its debt this
season.  R.U.R. is super-melodrama -- the melodrama of action plus
idea, a combination that is rarely seen on our stage.
THE INDEPENDENT, November 25, 1922.
    R.U.R. is arresting satire. Mr. Capek does not reveal, however,
the genius of the true satirist -- the power of continually shocking
and surprising the reader or the spectator, the genius of relentless
revelation of human weakness and stupidity.
From William E. Harkins, Capek's biographer:
    Capek "does not really believe that machines will destroy
man or that modern technology will robotize him."  He explains:
    Paradox of philosophical ideas is an important trait in Capek's
writing.  This follows from the conflicts within the author himself,
as well as from the intrinsic ambiguities of ideas and symbols.  In
_R.U.R._ machines bring Utopia, but in the end destroy man.
                                KAREL CAPEK, by W. E. Harkins
                                Columbia University Press, 1962.
From Rene Wellek (essay date 1936):
    _Painful Stories_ very worthily concludes the extremely
interesting period of Capek's early writings.  Then came immediately
the success of _R.U.R._. . . .which shows a complete change of style 
and outlook. . . ._R.U.R._ took the world by storm and there were 
some good reasons for its success.  The main idea of the robots (the
word, revived from robota, drudgery, was suggested by Josef Capek)
was timely:  the discussion of the whole problem of progress and of
man's relation to machines was, so to say, in the air just after the 
War. The whole tendency of the play, its warning of mankind against
the dangers of machine civilization, seemed very healthy, and the final
optimism, declaiming the power of love and the survival of life, sounded
very reassuring.  The play has also considerable theatrical qualities: the
men-automatons moving stiffly like dolls, the tension of the great
revolt,  the striking types of men -- all this testifies to Capek's
lively sense of the stage.  If we, however, examine the play in cold 
blood, the fissures in the structure and the gaps in the argument
become obvious: the robots which are conceived as men-machines without 
soul or feeling, are changed during the play by a sleight of hand
into real men.  There is no revolt of robots, but a revolt of oppressed
men: one race of men is simply dethroned by another and the whole
story loses its point.  It all comes to an attack on human ambition,
and a recommendation of simple humanity: of love, laughter, and tears.
The science displayed with much ingenuity is, after all, pseudo-
science: a sort of magic by which men are artificially made with
bones, veins, muscles,etc., just as any man, though on some mythical
chemical basis other than man's.
From William A. Drake (essay date 1928):
    . . .In _R.U.R._, for example, one notes the needless sexual
differences of the Robots, Helena's unreasonable decision to 
remain on the island, the feebleness of her humanitarianism. . . .
One admits the principles of the plays intellectually, but one never feels
them.  One sees the whole fabric, as clearly as one follows a proposition
in logic.  It is Capek's creative instinct that is here at fault. . . .
These deficiencies do not prevent the plays from reaching an astonishing
degree of theatrical effectiveness, but they emphasize Karel Capek's
creative limitations.  The intrusion of the thesis impedes and
sometimes, despite the author's ingenuity, arbitrarily determines the
development of the drama.  The instinct of the dramatist, on the
contrary, confounds the exposition of his symbolism.  The result is that,
fine as Capek's plays undoubtedly are, they have in no case fully
accomplished the possibilities of their original design.
From Oliver Elton, (writing as the aftermath of W. W. I had already 
settled down, and war, with its mechanical improvements, loomed
once again on the horizon):
(essay date 1939)
    To the present-day civilization, rent and torn, and obsessed
with a fear of its own destruction, the play speaks with terrific 
force. It could speak more briefly and, in consequence, more 
pointedly.  Even in its discursiveness, it is a great drama written
in a vividly imaginative way.


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