King Ubu

King Ubu (Ubu Roi) by Alfred Jarry

Translated from French to English by Patrick Whittaker.

Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry is an acknowledged masterpiece of absurdist theatre. It is one of the precursors of Dadaism and – by extension – surrealism.

Some years back, I got it into my head that I’d quite like to read this play of which I’d heard so much.  Unfortunately, the original was written in French and – try as I might – I could not find an English translation anywhere. Not on the Inernet and not in the real world. So, being a bit of an obsessive twat, I spent a week feverishly teaching myself French. Then I got a hold of Ubu Roi in French and translated it into English.

This is the result.


Act 1

Act 2

Act 3

Act 4

Act 5

Now here’s the deal. I claim no copyright here. Use this translation as you see fit. But it would be nice to be ackowledged; know what I mean?

  1. Thank you for making this available!

  2. How did you teach yourself French in a week? I am trying to learn French now as well, I’d love to know the tricks!
    Thanks for the translation.

    • It’s a while ago, but as I remember, I created loads of matrices setting out the rules of French (which I got out of a French grammar book), then set about parsing some French sentences. Basically, I analysed and deconstructed the language.

      It’s important to remember I only learned to read French and translate it into English. I didn’t bother trying to translate English to French or how to pronounce French words. If I’d taken a French exam or tried to converse in French, I’d have been stuffed.

  3. I have an English copy of Ubu Roi hardback printed in 1951 if you are interested

  4. Others have also successfully translated from languages they did not know. But they had some advantages over you: available former translations or text criticism, or even working with the author. Kudos to you for this great re-creative translation from just the text!
    Did you get requests from theater producers for its staging of late? It seems particularly pertinent to the present context.

    Best wishes and thanks

    PS BTW, I’m a native French speaker and particularly like the original.

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