Dürrenmatt, Friedrich


Dürrenmatt, Friedrich
(1921-1990)
   Playwright. Swiss native and pastor's son Dürrenmatt became a leading playwright in the postwar period, primarily because his concerns with guilt, personal responsibility, and the exploitation of power found wide resonance in both Europe and the United States. His plays were sometimes compared with Bertolt Brecht's; Dürrenmatt admired Brecht's dialectical approach and the theatricality Brecht employed, but Dürrenmatt was far less didactic in his approach. His characters, like Brecht's, often border on the grotesque—but unlike Brecht's they remain more accessible to audiences because Dürrenmatt never sermonizes. The actions of his characters—bizarre and grotesque as they often seem— are more connected to their motivations and seem less foreordained by the playwright.
   Dürrenmatt established his reputation with the comedy Romulus der Grosse (Romulus the Great, 1949) and the absurdist Die Ehe des Herrn Mississippi (The Marriage of Mr. Mississippi, 1952); both proved to be popular, but his Der Besuch der alten Dame (The Visit, 1956) became a hit of international proportions. The latter is Dürren-matt's best play, which he described as "a tragic comedy"; in it, he calls into question the dueling ideas of collective guilt and retributive justice. It premiered at the Zurich Schauspielhaus under Oskar Wäl-terlin with Therese Giehse (Brecht's original Mother Courage) in the title role. Giehse was only 58 at the time, but she was highly effective as Claire Zachanassian (the "old lady" who makes "the visit"), who arrives in her poverty-stricken home town of Güllen to share her enormous wealth with the townspeople if they will murder Alfred Ill (played by Gustav Knuth in the premiere production), who long ago seduced, impregnated, and abandoned her. After much soul searching and deliberation, the townspeople do her bidding. The New York production of The Visit featured Lynne Fontanne and Alfred Lunt in the roles of Claire and Alfred Ill (named "Anton Schill" in New York) under Peter Brook's direction, with the same designer as for the Zurich world premiere, Teo Otto. Critic Brooks Atkinson called the play "a bold, grisly drama of negativism" (New York Times, 6 May 1958).
   Dürrenmatt's "comedy" Die Physiker (The Physicists, 1961) is likewise a compelling duel, this time between insanity and sanity. A physicist named Möbius pretends to be insane in order to protect the world from his research discoveries. In the same institution (administered with ruthless efficiency by its chief psychiatrist, Dr. Mathilde von Zahnd) with Möbius are inmates who pretend to be Einstein and Newton; they turn out to be secret agents, and Dr. von Zahnd has also disguised her true identity. Or perhaps she is the one who is really mad, while the three inmates of her asylum are sane. The play owes a great deal to Pirandello in its conclusion, but Dürrenmatt's use of what he called the "functional grotesque" makes Die Physiker a wide-ranging examination of the limits to human reasoning and its power to resolve or even understand human dilemmas.

Historical dictionary of German Theatre. . 2006.

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  • Dürrenmatt, Friedrich — born Jan. 5, 1921, Konolfingen, near Bern, Switz. died Dec. 14, 1990, Neuchâtel Swiss playwright. His plays, showing the influence of Bertolt Brecht as well as the Theatre of the Absurd, were central to the post 1945 revival of the German theatre …   Universalium

  • Dürrenmatt,Friedrich — Dür·ren·matt (do͝orʹən mät , dyo͝orʹ , dürʹ ), Friedrich. Born 1921. Swiss writer known for his absurdist novels and plays, such as The Visit (1956). * * * …   Universalium

  • Dürrenmatt, Friedrich — ► (1921 90) Novelista y dramaturgo suizo de lengua alemana. Su visión desesperada del mundo se revela en piezas teatrales como La visita de la vieja dama (1955). Otros grandes éxitos fueron Frank V (1960) y Los físicos (1962). * * * (5 ene. 1921 …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Dürrenmatt — Dürrenmatt, Friedrich …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Friedrich Dürrenmatt — bei der Verleihung des Ernst Robert Curtius Preises für Essayistik 1989 in Bonn Friedrich Josef Dürrenmatt (* 5. Januar 1921 in Konolfingen; † 14. Dezember 1990 in Neuenburg) war ein Schweizer Schriftsteller, Dramati …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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