Friedrich Dürrenmatt

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The Physicists

Friedrich Dürrenmatt (German pronunciation: [ˈfriːdriç ˈdʏrənˌmat], 5 January 1921 – 14 December 1990) was a Swiss author and dramatist. He was a proponent of epic theatre whose plays reflected the recent experiences of World War II. The politically active author's work included avant-garde dramas, philosophically deep crime novels, and often macabre satire. Dürrenmatt was a member of the Gruppe Olten.



Dürrenmatt was born in Konolfingen, in the Emmental (canton of Bern), the son of a Protestant pastor. His grandfather, Ulrich Dürrenmatt, was a conservative politician. The family moved to Bern in 1935. Dürrenmatt began studies in philosophy and German language and literature at the University of Zurich in 1941, but moved to the University of Bern after one semester. In 1943, he decided to become an author and dramatist and dropped his academic career. In 1945–46, he wrote his first play It is written. On 11 October 1946, he married the actress Lotti Geissler. She died on 16 January 1983, and Dürrenmatt married again in 1984 to another actress, Charlotte Kerr.

Dürrenmatt also enjoyed painting. Some of his own works and his drawings were exhibited in Neuchâtel in 1976 and 1985, as well as in Zürich in 1978.

Dramatic works

Like Brecht, Dürrenmatt explored the dramatic possibilities of epic theatre. His plays are meant to involve the audience in a theoretical debate, rather than act as purely passive entertainment.

When he was 26, his first play, It Is Written, premiered to great controversy. The story of the play revolves around a battle between a sensation-craving cynic and a religious fanatic who takes scripture literally, all of this taking place while the city they live in is under siege. The play's opening night in April, 1947, caused fights and protests in the audience.

His first major success was the play Romulus the Great. Set in the year A.D. 476, the play explores the last days of the Roman Empire, presided over, and brought about by its last emperor. The Visit (Der Besuch der alten Dame, 1956) is a grotesque fusion of comedy and tragedy that creates a superb dramaturgic effect. It is the work best known in the United States. The satirical drama The Physicists (Die Physiker, 1962), which deals with issues concerning science and its responsibility for dramatic and even dangerous changes to our world, has also been presented in translation.

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