From R.U.R. to Westworld: Personal Revolt, Digital Technology, and the Making of a New Robot Ur-text


Bella Poynton


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The 100th anniversary of Karel Čapek’s formative play R.U.R. (1920), or Rossum’s Universal Robots, fell during 2020, a challenging year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a researcher interested in robotics in performance, I hoped for an anniversary revival, yet no high-budget production took place in the US. The original production of R.U.R. opened in Prague on January 25, 1921, arguably giving theatre-makers until the end of this year for an anniversary observance.[i] Popular when it premiered in New York in 1923 but no longer commonly produced, Čapek’s R.U.R. is best known for originating the term “robot.”[ii] The story follows Helena Glory, an activist who investigates the treatment of “artificial people” being made at Rossum’s factory.[iii] Glory finds not only that these robots are being made, but they are arguably being mistreated as well. Out of compassion for the robots and a growing romantic attachment to the plant’s director, Domin, Glory agrees to stay, looking to eventually equip each robot with what she calls a “soul.”[iv] This endeavor does not go as planned, triggering a robot revolution and the swift destruction of humankind. While the epilogue ends on a hopeful note for the robots, there is no suggestion of survival for humans.


[i] Harold B Segel, Pinocchio’s Progeny: Puppets, Marionettes, Automatons, and Robots in Modernist and Avant-Garde Drama (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), 297.

[ii] Kara Reilly, Automata and Mimesis on the Stage of Theatre History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan,

2011), 148.

[iii] Karel Čapek, R.U.R. 1921, trans. Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications Inc., 2014), http://preprints.readingroo.ms/RUR/rur.pdf, 3.

[iv] Čapek, R.U.R., trans. Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair, 24.

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