Karel Capek

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Plays by Karel Capek

The Insect Play

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Insect Play (or Ze života hmyzu in the Czech) is an unconventional and much-celebrated satire which tells the story of myriad insects and the multi-layered and complex society which binds them; its comical allegory serves illuminate the competing philosophies of life doing battle in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century.

Writing in their translator’s introduction, Peter Majer and Cathy Porter point out that ‘the play’s visceral theatricality, playful language and wealth of strong acting parts make it a director’s dream, and it is one of the most performed of all Čapek’s stage creations in the English-speaking world . . . With their tiny eyes, their powerful jaws, their capacity to kill or suck dry, to be blown away or crushed, Čapek’s insects are repulsive yet human, and as they scurry effortlessly between the human and insect worlds they show human passions, instincts and vices, and the bloody lusts which make human intelligence hideous.'

The Insect Play was first performed in Prague in 1922.

The Makropulos Case

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

The Makropulos Case (1922) [is] a tragic-comic fantasy about ageing and human mortality. There are many inspirations for this marvellous play: the Russian zoologist Professor Mechnikov’s tehories about the ageing process as a self-intoxication of the organis; Shaw’s Back to Methusaleh; the immortal monsters of Frankenstein and Dracula; the French philosopher Henri Bergson, and his explorations of free will and temporality.’ So say the translators of The Makropulos Case, Peter Majer and Cathy Porter, in their introduction to the anthology in which this translation was first published.

The Makropulos Case is an enduring story of the invention of a potion that will give its consumer eternal life. In typical Čapek style though, the elixir proves to be the undoing of those surrounding it, as the prospect of unlimited life reduces them to greed, secrecy and litigation.

The Makropolus Case was first performed in Prague in 1922.

R.U.R.

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A funny and surreal story of servitude and technology, R.U.R. was legendary Czech writer Karel Čapek’s first major work for the stage.

In their introduction to the play, translators Peter Majer and Cathy Porter write that Čapek’s ‘idiosyncratic nihilism found its earliest expression in his first large-scale stage drama, R.U.R., or Reason’s Universal Robots 1921. The Robot was the invention of Karel Čapek and his brother Josef, and the play is a gloriously dystopic science-fiction fantasy about them and the brave new world of the men who mass-produce them . . . Robots multiply, are bought and sold and gradually take over every aspect of human existence. As people grow idle and stop procreating, the Robots rebel and destroy almost the entire human race . . . R.U.R. was frequently performed in Europe and America throughout the 1920s, and the outrageous comedy of its central premise, its surrealistic visual effects and experimental use of space immediately caught the popular theatrical imagination.'

R.U.R or Rosumovi Umělí Roboti, was first performed in Prague in 1921.

The White Plague

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Unlike many other plays by Čapek, The White Plague is pervaded not by hope with a little nihilism, but with anguish and fear for what the future would hold. Written in the late 1930s, shortly before the Munich Agreement delivered much of Czechoslovakia into Nazi control, The White Plague tells the story of a dictatorship which is overcome by an illness it is powerless to control.

In their introduction, translators Peter Majer and Cathy Porter write: ‘The White Plague (1937) [is] a savage and anguished satire against fascist dictatorship. The action is set in an unnamed country and under its dictator, the Marshal, the population is poised for the final war which will conquer the world. Science, medicine and production are ruled by fiat, and dissent is ruthlessly suppressed. But people are dying by the thousand from a mysterious epidemic for which nobody knows the cure. The disease slays soldiers, rulers and workers alike, depleting the labour force and jeopardising production . . . A humanist by nature, Čapek struggled to understand the psychology of his time, joining the front line of journalists and intellectuals fighting for democracy and against the infamous Munich pact . . . But he was already being attacked by Czech and German fascists at public meetings and in the press, and The White Plague made him more enemies.'

The White Plague was first performed and published in Czech in 1937, the year before Čapek’s death at the age of 48.

'There was no writer like him... He made it possible to actually invent worlds, and with laughter into the bargain. This prophetic assurance was mixed with a brand-new surrealistic humour, and it was honed to hard-edged social satire, still a unique combination'. - Arthur Miller.
Karel Capek (1890-1938) was one of the most original Czech writers of the 1920s and 30s, whose works were the inspiration for much of the science fiction of Europe and America. Endlessly inventive and extraordinarily prescient, full of humour and wit, his plays explore and defend man's humanity. He is known for RUR where the robot - an idea Capek was the first to invent - gradually takes over all aspects of human existence except procreation; The Insect play, a satirical fable in which beetles, butterflies and ants give dramatic form to different philosophies of life; The Makropulos Case, which examines human mortality, finally celebrating the average lifespan and The White Plague, a savage and anguished satire against fascist dictatorship and the virus of inhumanity.