Karel Capek

Preview: Issue 1 of 6

Translated by Paul Selver


Scene: Central office of the factory of Rossum's Universal Robots. Entrance R. down Right. The windows on the back wall look out on the endless roads of factory buildings. Door L. down Left. On the Left wall large maps showing steamship and railroad routes. On the Right wall are fastened printed placards. ( "Robots cheapest Labor," etc.) In contrast to these wall fittings, the floor is covered with splendid Turkish carpet, a couch R.C. A book shelf containing bottles of wine and spirits, instead of books.

Domin is sitting at his desk at Left, dictating. Sulla is at the typewriter upstage against the wall. There is a leather couch with arms Right Center. At the extreme Right an armchair. At extreme Left a chair. There is also a chair in front of Domin's desk. Two green cabinets across the upstage corners of the room complete the furniture. Domin's desk is placed up and down stage facing Right.

Seen through the windows which run to the heights of the room are rows of factory chimneys, telegraph poles and wires. There is a general passageway or hallway upstage at the Right Center which leads to the warehouse. The Robots are brought into the office through this entrance.

Domin ( Dictating ) Ready?

Sulla Yes.

Domin To E. M. McVicker & Co., Southampton, England. "We undertake no guarantee for goods damaged in transit. As soon as the consignment was taken on board we drew your captain's attention to the fact that the vessel was unsuitable for the transportation of Robots; and we are therefore not responsible for spoiled freight. We beg to remain, for Rossum's Universal Robots, yours truly." (Sulla types the lines. ) Ready?

Sulla Yes.

Domin Another letter. To the E. B. Huysen Agency, New York, U.S.A. "We beg to acknowledge receipt of order for five thousand Robots. As you are sending your own vessel, please dispatch as cargo equal quantities of soft and hard coal for R.U.R., the same to be credited as part payment ( BUZZER ) of the amount due us." ( Answering phone ) Hello! This is the central office. Yes, certainly. Well, send them a wire. Good. ( Rises ) "We beg to remain, for Rossum's Universal Robots, yours very truly." Ready?

Sulla Yes.

Domin ( Answering small portable phone ) Hello! Yes. No. All right. ( Standing back of desk, punching plug machine and buttons ) Another letter. Freidrichswerks, Hamburg, Germany. "We beg to acknowledge receipt of order for fifteen thousand Robots." ( Enter Marius R.) Well, what is it?

Marius There's a lady, sir, asking to see you.

Domin A lady? Who is she?

Marius I don't know, sir. She brings this card of introduction.

Domin ( Reading card ) Ah, from President Glory. Ask her to come in-- ( To Sulla. Crossing up to her desk, then back to his own ) Where did I leave off?

Sulla "We beg to acknowledge receipt of order for fifteen thousand Robots."

Domin Fifteen thousand. Fifteen thousand.

Marius ( At door R.) Please step this way.

( Enter Helena. Exit Marius R.)

Helena ( Crossing to desk ) How do you do?

Domin How do you do? What can I do for you?

Helena You are Mr. Domin, the General Manager?

Domin I am.

Helena I have come --

Domin With President Glory's card. That is quite sufficient.

Helena President Glory is my father. I am Helena Glory.

Domin Please sit down. Sulla, you may go. ( Exit Sulla L. Sitting down L. of desk ) How can I be of service to you, Miss Glory?

Helena I have come -- ( Sits R. of desk. )

Domin To have a look at our famous works where people are manufactured. Like all visitors. Well, there is no objection.

Helena I thought it was forbidden to --

Domin To enter the factory? Yes, of course. Everybody comes here with someone's visiting card, Miss Glory.

Helena And you show them --

Domin Only certain things. The manufacture of artificial people is a secret process.

Helena If you only knew how enormously that --

Domin Interests you. Europe's talking about nothing else.

Helena ( Indignantly turning front ) Why don't you let me finish speaking?

Domin ( Drier ) I beg your pardon. Did you want to say something different?

Helena I only wanted to ask --

Domin Whether I could make a special exception in your case and show you our factory. Why, certainly, Miss Glory.

Helena How do you know I wanted to say that?

Domin They all do. But we shall consider it a special honor to show you more than we do the rest.

Helena Thank you.

Domin ( Standing ) But you must agree not to divulge the least--

Helena ( Standing and giving him her hand ) My word of honor.

Domin Thank you. ( Looking at her hand ) Won't you raise your veil?

Helena Of course. You want to see whether I'm a spy or not--I beg your pardon.

Domin ( Leaning forward ) What is it?

Helena Would you mind releasing my hand?

Domin ( Releasing it ) Oh, I beg your pardon.

Helena ( Raising veil ) How cautious you have to be here, don't you?

Domin ( Observing her with deep interest ) Why, yes. Hm--of course--We--that is--

Helena But what is it? What's the matter?

Domin I'm remarkably pleased. Did you have a pleasant crossing?

Helena Yes.

Domin No difficulty?

Helena Why?

Domin What I mean to say is --you're so young.

Helena May we go straight into the factory?

Domin Yes. Twenty-two, I think.

Helena Twenty-two what?

Domin Years.

Helena Twenty-one. Why do you want to know?

Domin Well, because --as-- ( Sits on desk nearer her ) You will make a long stay, won't you?

Helena ( Backing away R.) That depends on how much of the factory you show me.

Domin ( Rises; crosses to her ) Oh, hang the factory. Oh, no, no, you shall see everything, Miss Glory. Indeed you shall. Won't you sit down? ( Takes her to couch R.C. She sits. Offers her cigarette from case at end of sofa. She refuses. )

Helena Thank you.

Domin But first would you like to hear the story of the invention?

Helena Yes, indeed.

Domin ( Crosses to L.C. near desk ) It was in the year 1920 that old Rossum, the great physiologist, who was then quite a young scientist, took himself to the distant island for the purpose of studying the ocean fauna. ( She is amused. ) 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 four hundred and forty years after the discovery of America. Whew--

Helena Do you know that by heart?

Domin ( Takes flowers from desk to her ) Yes. You see, physiology is not in my line. Shall I go on?

Helena ( Smelling flowers ) Yes, please.

Domin ( Center ) And then, Miss Glory, Old Rossum wrote the following among his chemical experiments: "Nature has found only one method of organizing living matter. There is, however, another method, more 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." Now imagine him, Miss Glory, writing those wonderful words over some colloidal mess that a dog wouldn't look at. Imagine him sitting over a test tube and thinking how the whole tree of life would grow from him, how all animals would proceed from it, beginning with some sort of a beetle and ending with a man. A man of different substance from us. Miss Glory, that was a tremendous moment. ( Gets box of candy from desk and passes it to her. )

Helena Well --

Domin ( As she speaks his portable PHONE lights up and he answers ) Well--Hello!--Yes--no, I'm in conference. Don't disturb me.

Helena Well?

Domin ( Smile ) Now, the thing was how to get the life out of the test tubes, and hasten development and form organs, bones and nerves, and so on, and find such substances as catalytics, enzymes, hormones in short --you understand?

Helena Not much, I'm afraid.

Domin Never mind. ( Leans over couch and fixes cushion for her back ) There! You see with the help of his tinctures he could make whatever he wanted. He could have produced a Medusa with the brain of Socrates or a worm fifty yards long-- ( She laughs. He does also; leans closer on couch, then straightens up again ) --but being without a grain of humor, he took into his head to make a vertebrate or perhaps a man. This artificial living matter of his had a raging thirst for life. It didn't mind being sown or mixed together. That couldn't be done with natural albumen. And that's how he set about it.

Helena About what?

Domin About imitating Nature. First of all he tried making an artificial dog. That took him several years and resulted in a sort of stunted calf which died in a few days. I'll show it to you in the museum. And then old Rossum started on the manufacture of man.

Helena And I'm to divulge this to nobody?

Domin To nobody in the world.

Helena What a pity that it's to be discovered in all the school books of both Europe and America. ( Both laugh. )

Domin Yes. But do you know what isn't in the school books? That old Rossum was mad. Seriously, Miss Glory, you must keep this to yourself. The old crank wanted to actually make people.

Helena But you do make people.

Domin Approximately --Miss Glory. But old Rossum meant it literally. He wanted to become a sort of scientific substitute for God. He was a fearful materialist, and that's why he did it all. His sole purpose was nothing more or less than to prove that God was no longer necessary. ( Crosses to end of couch ) Do you know anything about anatomy?

Helena Very little.

Domin Neither do I. Well -- ( He laughs ) --he then decided to manufacture 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 been a man , but it lived for three days only. Then up came young Rossum, an engineer. He was 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 than Nature, you might as well shut up shop." Then he set about learning anatomy himself.

Helena There's nothing about that in the school books?

Domin No. The school books are full of paid advertisements, and rubbish at that. What the school books say about the united efforts of the two great Rossums is all a fairy tale. They used to have dreadful rows. The old atheist hadn't the slightest conception of 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 to botch up two physiological horrors. Then one day they found him dead in the laboratory. And that's his whole story.

Helena And what about the young man?

Domin ( Sits beside her on couch ) Well, anyone who has looked into human 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 to see what could be left out or simplified. In short --But this isn't boring you, Miss Glory?

Helena No, indeed. You're--It's awfully interesting.

Domin ( Gets closer ) So young Rossum said to himself: "A man is something that feels happy, plays the piano, likes going for a walk, and, in fact, wants to do a whole lot of things that are really unnecessary."

Helena Oh.

Domin That are unnecessary when he wants -- ( Takes her hand ) --let us say, to weave or count. Do you play the piano?

Helena Yes.

Domin That's good. ( Kisses her hand. She lowers her head. ) Oh, I beg your pardon! ( Rises ) But a working machine must not play the piano, must not feel happy, must not do a whole lot of other things. A gasoline motor must not have tassels or ornaments, Miss Glory. And to manufacture artificial workers is the same thing as the manufacture of a gasoline motor. ( She is not interested. ) The process must be the simplest, and the product the best from a practical point of view. ( Sits beside her again ) What sort of worker do you think is the best from a practical point of view?

Helena ( Absently ) What? ( Looks at him. )

Domin What sort of worker do you think is the best from a practical point of view?

Helena ( Pulling herself together ) Oh! Perhaps the one who is most honest and hard-working.

Domin No. The one that is the cheapest. The one whose requirements 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. 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. ( Leans back. )

Helena How do you know they have no soul?

Domin Have you ever seen what a Robot looks like inside?

Helena No.

Domin Very neat, very simple. Really a beautiful piece of work. Not much in it, but everything in flawless order. The product of an engineer is technically at a higher pitch of perfection than a product of Nature.

Helena But man is supposed to be the product of God.

Domin All the worse. God hasn't the slightest notion of modern engineering. Would you believe that young Rossum then proceeded to play at being God?

Helena ( Awed ) How do you mean?

Domin He began to manufacture Super-Robots. Regular giants they were. He tried to make them twelve feet tall. But you wouldn't believe what a failure they were.

Helena A failure?

Domin Yes. For no reason at all their limbs used to keep snapping off. "Evidently our planet is too small for giants." Now we only make Robots of normal size and of very high-class human finish.

Helena ( Hands him flower; he puts it in button-hole ) I saw the first Robots at home. The Town Council bought them for--I mean engaged them for work.

Domin No. Bought them, Miss Glory. Robots are bought and sold.

Helena These were employed as street-sweepers. I saw them sweeping. They were so strange and quiet.

Domin ( Rises ) Rossum's Universal Robot factory doesn't produce a uniform brand of Robots. We have Robots of finer and coarser grades. The best will live about twenty years. ( Crosses to desk. Helena looks in her pocket mirror. He pushes button on desk. )

Helena Then they die?

Domin Yes, they get used up. ( Enter Marius, R. Domin crosses to C.) Marius, bring in samples of the manual labor Robot. ( Exit Marius R.C.) I'll show you specimens of the two extremes. This first grade is comparatively inexpensive and is made in vast quantities. (Marius re-enters R.C. with two manual labor Robots. Marius is L.C., Robots R.C., Domin at desk. Marius stands on tiptoes, touches head, feels arms, forehead of one of the Robots. They come to a mechanical standstill. ) There you are, as powerful as a small tractor. Guaranteed to have average intelligence. That will do, Marius. (Marius exits R.C. with Robots.)

Helena** They make me feel so strange.

Domin ( Crosses to desk. Rings ) Did you see my new typist?

Helena I didn't notice her.

( Enter Sulla L. She crosses and stands C., facing Helena, who is still sitting in the couch. )

Domin Sulla, let Miss Glory see you.

Helena ( Looks at Domin Rising, crosses a step to C.) So pleased to meet you. ( Looks at Domin) You must find it terribly dull in this out of the way spot, don't you?

Sulla I don't know, Miss Glory.

Helena Where do you come from?

Sulla From the factory.

Helena Oh, were you born there?

Sulla I was made there.

Helena What? ( Looks first at Sulla, then at Domin.)

Domin** ( To Sulla, laughing ) Sulla is a Robot, best grade.

Helena Oh, I beg your pardon.

Domin ( Crosses to Sulla) Sulla isn't angry. See, Miss Glory, the kind of skin we make. Feel her face. ( Touches Sulla's face. )

Helena Oh, no, no.

Domin ( Examining Sulla's hand ) You wouldn't know that she's made of different material from us, would you? Turn'round, Sulla. (Sulla does so. Circles twice. )

Helena Oh, stop, stop.

Domin Talk to Miss Glory, Sulla. ( Examines hair of Sulla.)

Sulla** Please sit down. (Helena sits on couch. ) Did you have a pleasant crossing? ( Fixes her hair. )

Helena Oh, yes, certainly.

Sulla Don't go back on the Amelia , Miss Glory, the barometer is falling steadily. Wait for the Pennsylvania. That's a good powerful vessel.

Domin What's its speed?

Sulla Forty knots an hour. Fifty thousand tons. One of the latest vessels, Miss Glory.

Helena Thank you.

Sulla A crew of fifteen hundred, Captain Harpy, eight boilers --

Domin That'll do, Sulla. Now show us your knowledge of French.

Helena You know French?

Sulla Oui! Madame! I know four languages. I can write: "Dear Sir, Monsieur, Geehrter Herr, Cteny pane."

Helena ( Jumping up, crosses to Sulla) Oh, that's absurd! Sulla isn't a Robot. Sulla is a girl like me. Sulla, this is outrageous--Why do you take part in such a hoax?

Sulla I am a Robot.

Helena No, no, you are not telling the truth. ( She catches the amused expression on Domin's face ) I know they have forced you to do it for an advertisement. Sulla, you are a girl like me, aren't you? ( Looks at him. )

Domin I'm sorry, Miss Glory. Sulla is a Robot.

Helena It's a lie!

Domin What? ( Pushes button on desk ) Well, then I must convince you. ( Enter Marius R.C. He stands just inside the door. ) Marius, take Sulla into the dissecting room, and tell them to open her up at once. (Marius moves toward C.)

Helena Where?

Domin Into the dissecting room. When they've cut her open , you can go and have a look. (Marius makes a start toward Sulla.)

Helena** ( Stopping Marius) No! No!

Domin Excuse me, you spoke of lies.

Helena You wouldn't have her killed?

Domin You can't kill machines. Sulla! (Marius one step forward, one arm out. Sulla makes a move toward R. door. )

Helena ( Moves a step R.) Don't be afraid, Sulla. I won't let you go. Tell me, my dear-- ( Takes her hand ) --are they always so cruel to you? You mustn't put up with it, Sulla. You mustn't.

Sulla I am a Robot.

Helena That doesn't matter. Robots are just as good as we are. Sulla, you wouldn't let yourself be cut to pieces?

Sulla Yes. ( Hand away. )

Helena Oh, you're not afraid of death, then?

Sulla I cannot tell, Miss Glory.

Helena Do you know what would happen to you in there?

Sulla Yes, I should cease to move.

Helena How dreadful! ( Looks at Sulla.)

Domin Marius, tell Miss Glory what you are? ( Turns to Helena.**)

Marius** ( To Helena) Marius, the Robot.

Domin Would you take Sulla into the dissecting room?

Marius ( Turns to Domin) Yes.

Domin Would you be sorry for her?

Marius ( Pause ) I cannot tell.

Domin What would happen to her?

Marius She would cease to move. They would put her into the stamping mill.

Domin That is death, Marius. Aren't you afraid of death?

Marius No.

Domin You see, Miss Glory, the Robots have no interest in life. They have no enjoyments. They are less than so much grass.

Helena Oh, stop. Please send them away.

Domin ( Pushes button ) Marius, Sulla, you may go. (Marius pivots and exits R. Sulla exits L.)

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