The titular character of Jarry’s play “Ubu Roi,” Pére Ubu, is a monstrous creation described by Britannica as “gluttonous, greedy, and … cruel,” but also ultimately a coward and a fool. Pére Ubu a barrel-bodied grotesque who, amid infighting with his wife, Ma Ubu, and his band of followers — or “lunatics” — kills the King of Poland and usurps the throne.
Ubu is a monster, but rather than a parody of, say, Napoleon Bonaparte, the character is reportedly derived from a man Jarry knew as a schoolboy: his physics teacher, Professor Hébert. According to Jarry scholar Roger Shattuck, Hébert was a sincere but incompetent teacher, whose lack of ability in controlling the class saw him roundly ridiculed by generations of students, who would pelt him with missiles in the classroom, and imitate him and write about him outside of it. And when Jarry came into contact with him, Jarry adopted him and his surrounding legends into his own imaginative world, basing upon him a trilogy of plays he would be working on throughout his short life.
But Professor Hébert was perhaps not only the original source material for “Ubu Roi.” As Shattuck observes, the teacher’s chaotic lessons also presented science itself — “my science of physics,” as Hébert himself would call it — as a hubristic establishment, which, through its dry humorlessness, deserved to be knocked down. This would come to play a part in much of Jarry’s later writing and the legacy he left behind.