by Karel Capek
Excerpt from the original play by Karel Capek. Written in
1920. Played on Broadway and around the world.
Capek is the founder of the Czech school of science fiction
writers and an annual award given in the field of science
fiction writing in Prague bears his name. This play introduced
the word "robot" first into Czech in its present
meaning and then on to the world's languages.
[Digitized from the Washington Square press edition, Simon and
Schuster, 1973. Translated from the Czech by Paul Selver.
Excerpt for classroom use under fair use provisions of copyright
code. I. e., Less than 10% of total work in length.]
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Harry Domain, General Manager for Rossum's Universal Robots
Fabry, Chief Engineer for R.U.R.
Dr. Gall, Head of the Physiological Dept. of R.U.R.
Dr. Hellman, Psychologist-in-Chief
Jacob Berman, Managing Director of R.U.R.
Alquist, Clerk of the works of R.U.R.
Helena Glory, Daughter of Professor Glory, Oxbridge University
Emma, her maid
Marius, a robot
Sula, a robot
Radius, a robot
Primus, a robot
Helena, a robotess
A Robot Servant and Numerous Robots
ON A REMOTE ISLAND.
Central Office of the Factory of Rossum's Universal Robots.
Entrance at the back on the right. The windows
look out onto
endless rows of factory buildings. DOMAIN is sitting in a
revolving chair at a large "knee-hole" writing table on which
stand an electric lamp, telephone, letter-weight, correspondence
file, etc. On the left-hand wall hang large maps showing
steamship and railway routes, a large calendar, and a clock
indicating a few minutes before noon. On the right-hand wall
are fastened printed placards:
"CHEAP LABOR. ROSSUM'S ROBOTS."
"ROBOTS FOR THE TROPICS. 150 DOLLARS EACH."
"EVERYONE SHOULD BUY HIS OWN ROBOT."
"DO YOU WANT TO CHEAPEN YOUR OUTPUT?
ORDER ROSSUM'S ROBOTS":
-- more maps, shipping transport arrangements, etc. A tape machine
showing rates of exchange stands in one corner. In contrast to
these wall fittings, the floor is covered with a splendid Turkey
carpet. On the right stand a round table, a sofa, leather armchair,
and a bookshelf containing bottles of wine and spirits instead
of books. Cashier's desk on the left.
Next to DOMAIN'S table SULLA is typing letters.
"We do not accept any liability for goods
damaged in transit. When the consignment was shipped, we drew your
Captain's attention to the fact that the vessel was unsuitable for the
transportation of Robots. The matter is one for your own insurance
company. We beg to remain, for Rossum's Universal Robots --" Finished?
DOMAIN: Another letter. "To the E. B. Hudson Agency,
Date. We beg to acknowledge receipt of order for five thousand Robots.
As you are sending your own vessel, please dispatch as cargo briquettes
for R.U.R., the same to be credited as part-payment of the amount due to
us. We beg to remain --" Finished?
SULLA: (Typing the last word.) Yes.
DOMAIN: "Friedrichswerke, Hamburg. Date. We beg
receipt of order for fifteen thousand Robots."
(The house telephone rings. DOMAIN picks it up
and speaks into
Hallo, this is the central office -- yes -- certainly.
as usual. Of course, send them a cable. Good. (Hangs
Where did I leave off?
SULLA: We beg to acknowledge receipt of order
of fifteen thousand
DOMAIN: (Thoughtfully) Fifteen thousand R.
Fifteen thousand R.
MARIUS: (Entering) There's a lady, sir,
asking to --
DOMAIN: Who is she?
MARIUS: I don't know, sir. She gave me this
DOMAIN: (Reads) Professor William Glory,
St. Trydewyde's, Oxbridge
-- ask her to come in.
MARIUS: (Opening the door) Please step this
Enter HELENA GLORY.
DOMAIN: (Standing up) What can I do for
HELENA: You are Mr. Domain, the general manager.
DOMAIN: I am.
HELENA: I have come to you --
DOMAIN: With Professor Glory's card. That
HELENA: Professor Glory is my father. I
am Helena Glory.
DOMAIN: Miss Glory, it is an unusual honor
for us to be --
to be --
HELENA: Yes, well.
DOMAIN: To be allowed to welcome the distinguished
daughter. Please sit down. Sulla, you may go.
(Sitting down) How may I be of service to you,
HELENA: I have come here --
DOMAIN: To have a look at our factory where people
Like all visitors. Well, there's no objection.
HELENA: I thought it was forbidden --
DOMAIN: It is forbidden to enter the factory,
But everybody comes here with an introduction and then --
HELENA: And you show everybody --?
DOMAIN: Only certain things. The manufacture
people is a secret process.
HELENA: If you only knew how enormously that --
DOMAIN: Interests me, you were going to say.
about nothing else.
HELENA: I only wanted to ask --
DOMAIN: Whether I could make a special exception
in your case
and show you our factory. Certainly, Miss Glory.
HELENA: How do you know that I wanted to ask you
DOMAIN: They all do. (Standing up)
We shall consider it a
special honor to show you more than the rest, because -- indeed
-- I mean --
HELENA: Thank you.
DOMAIN: But you must not undertake to divulge
the least --
HELENA: (Standing up and giving him her hand)
My word of honor.
DOMAIN: Thank you. Won't you raise your
HELENA: Oh, of course, you want to see me.
I beg your pardon.
DOMAIN: What is it, please?
HELENA: Would you mind letting my hand go?
DOMAIN (Releasing it) I beg your pardon.
HELENA: (Taking off her veil) You want to
see whether I am
a spy or not. How cautious you are!
DOMAIN: (Looking at her intently) H'm, of
course -- we --
that is --
HELENA: You don't trust me?
DOMAIN: Oh, indeed, Miss Glory, I'm only too delighted.
Weren't you lonely on the voyage?
DOMAIN: Because -- I mean to say -- you're so
HELENA: Yes. Shall we go straight into the
DOMAIN: Twenty-two, I think, eh?
HELENA: Twenty-two what?
HELENA: Twenty-one. Why do you want to know?
DOMAIN: Because as -- -- (With enthusiasm) You'll
make a long
stay, won't you?
HELENA: That depends upon how much of the factory
you show me.
DOMAIN: Oh, hang the factory. But you shall
see everything, Miss
Glory, indeed you shall. PLease sit down. Would you like
to hear the
story of the invention?
HELENA: Yes, please.
DOMAIN: Well, then. (Sits down with writing-table,
looks at HELENA
with rapture and reels off rapidly) It was the in the year 1922 that
old Rossum the great physiologist, who was then quite a young scientist,
betook himself to this distant island for the purpose of studying the
ocean fauna, full stop. On this occasion he attempted by chemical
synthesis to imitate the living matter known as protoplasm, until he
suddenly discovered a substance which behaved exactly like living matter,
although its chemical composition was different; that was in the year
1932, exactly 400 years after the discovery of America, whew!
HELENA: Do you know that by heart?
DOMAIN: Physiology, Miss Glory, is not my line.
Shall I go on?
HELENA: Please do.
DOMAIN: (Solemnly) And then, Miss Glory,
old Rossum wrote the
following day in his book: "Nature has found only one method of
organizing living matter. There is, however, another method
simple, flexible, and rapid, which has not yet occurred to nature
at all. This second process by which life can be developed was
discovered by me today." Imagine him, Miss Glory, writing
wonderful words. Imagine him sitting over a test tube and thinking
how the whole tree of life would grow from it, how animals would
proceed from it, beginning with some sort of beetle and ending with man
himself. A man of different substance from ours. Miss Glory,
was a tremendous moment.
HELENA: Go on, please.
DOMAIN: Now the thing was, how to get the life
out of the test
tube and hasten development: to form organs, bones and nerves,
and so on: to find such substances as catalytics, enzymes, hormones,
and so forth, in short -- you understand?
HELENA: I don't know. Not much, I'm afraid.
DOMAIN: Never mind. You see, with the help
of his tinctures he
could make whatever he wanted. He could have produced a Medusa with
the brain of a Socrates or a worm fifty yards long. But being without
grain of humor, he took it into his head to make a normal vertebrate.
This artificial living matter of his had a raging thirst for life.
It didn't mind being sewn up or mixed together. THAT, you'll admit,
couldn't be done with natural albumen. And that's how he set about
HELENA: About what?
DOMAIN: About imitating nature. First of
all he tried making an
artificial dog. That took him several years and resulted in a sort
stunted calf which died in a few days. I'll show it you in the museaum.
And then old Rossum started on the manufacture of man.
HELENA: And I must divulge this to nobody?
DOMAIN: To nobody in this world.
HELENA: It's a pity that it can already be found
in every school
DOMAIN: Yes. (Jumps up from the table and sits
down beside HELENA.)
But do you know what isn't in the lesson books? (Taps his forehead)
That old Rossum was quite mad. Seriously, Miss Glory, you must
this to yourself. The old crank actually wanted to make people.
HELENA: But you do make people.
DOMAIN: Synthetically, Miss Helena. But
old Rossum meant it
actually. He wanted to become a sort of scientific substitute for
God, you know. He was a fearful materialist, and that's why he did
it all. His sole purpose was to supply proof that Providence was no
longer necessary. So he took it into his head to make people exactly
like us. Do you know anything about anatomy?
HELENA: Only a very little.
DOMAIN: So do I. Imagine then that he decided
everything as in the human body. I'll show you in the museum the
bungling attempt it took him ten years to produce. It was to have
a man, but it lived for three years only. Then up came young Rossum,
an engineer, the nephew of old Rossum. A wonderful fellow, Miss Glory.
When he saw what a mess of it the old man was making, he said: "It's
absurd to spend ten years making a man. If you can't make him quicker
then nature, you may as well shut up shop." Then he set about learning
HELENA: There's nothing about that in the lesson books.
DOMAIN: (Standing up) The lesson books are full of paid
and rubbish at that. For example, it says there that the Robots were
invented by an old man. But it was young Rossum who had the idea
living and intelligent working machines. What the lesson books say
the united efforts of the two great Rossums is all a fairy tale.
to have dreadful rows. The old atheist hadn't the slightest conception
industrial matters, and the end of it was that young Rossum shut him up
in some laboratory or other and let him fritter the time away with his
monstrosities, while he himself started on the business from an engineer's
point of view. Old Rossum cursed him, and before he died he managed
botch up two physiological horrors. Then one day they found him dead
the laboratory. That's the whole story.
HELENA: And what about the young man?
DOMAIN: Well, anyone who's looked into anatomy will
have seen at once
that man is too complicated and that a good engineer could make him more
simply. So young Rossum began to overhaul anatomy and tried to see
could be left out or simplified. In short -- but this isn't boring
HELENA: No, on the contrary, it's awfully interesting.
DOMAIN: So young Rossum said to himself: a man is something
instance, feels happy, plays the fiddle, likes going for walks, and, in
fact, wants to do a whole lot of things that aren't fully necessary.
DOMAIN: Wait a bit. That are unnecessary when
he's wanted, let us
say, to weave or count. Do you play the fiddle?
DOMAIN: That's a pity. But a working machine must
not want to play
the fiddle, must not feel happy, must not do a whole lot of other
A petrol motor must not have tassels or ornaments, Miss Glory. And
manufacture artificial workers is the same thing as to manufacture
motors. The process must be the simplest, and the product must be
best from a practical point of view. What sort of worker do you think is
the best from a practical point of view?
HELENA: The best? Perhaps the one who is most
honest and hard-
DOMAIN: No, the cheapest. The one whose needs
are the smallest.
Young Rossum invented a worker with the minimum amount of requirements.
He had to simplify him. He rejected everything that did not contribute
directly to the progress of work. He rejected everything that makes
man more expensive. In fact, he rejected man and made the Robot.
My dear Miss Glory, the Robots are not people. Mechanically they are more
perfect than we are, they have an enormously developed intelligence,
but they have no soul. Have you ever seen what a Robot looks like
HELENA: Good gracious, no!
DOMAIN: Very neat, very simple. Really a beautiful piece
If copyright clears, there will be more.
Otherwise, I suggest getting a copy at your local library or online book