Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Dürrenmatt in 1989.
Born 5 January 1921(1921-01-05)
Konolfingen, Switzerland
Died 14 December 1990(1990-12-14) (aged 69)
Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Occupation Playwright, novelist
Language German
Nationality Swiss
Notable work(s)

The Physicists

The Visit

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 Zurich 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. Between 1948 and 1949, Dürrenmatt wrote several segments and sketches for the left-wing anti-Nazi Cabaret Cornichon in Zurich; among these, the single-act grotesque short play Der Gerettete (The rescued).[1]

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 internationally. 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.

Radio plays published in English include Hercules in the Augean Stables (Herkules und der Stall des Augias, 1954), Incident at Twilight (Abendstunde im Spätherbst, 1952) and The Mission of the Vega (Das Unternehmen der Wega, 1954). The two late works "Labyrinth" and "Turmbau zu Babel" are a collection of unfinished ideas, stories, and philosophical thoughts.

Later life

View above the Centre Dürrenmatt at the Lake Neuchâtel.

In 1990, he gave two famous speeches, one in honour of Václav Havel (Die Schweiz, ein Gefängnis? / Switzerland a prison?), and the other in honour of Mikhail Gorbachev (Kants Hoffnung / Kant's Hope). Dürrenmatt often compared the three Abrahamic religions and Marxism, which he also saw as a religion.

Even if there are several parallels between Dürrenmatt and Brecht, Dürrenmatt never took a political position, but represented a pragmatic philosophy of life. In 1969, he traveled in the USA, in 1974 to Israel, and in 1990 to Auschwitz in Poland.

Dürrenmatt died from heart failure[2] on 14 December 1990 in Neuchâtel.

Selected bibliography

  • Es steht geschrieben (1947)
  • Der Blinde (1947)
  • Romulus der Große (Romulus the Great: An Ahistorical Historical Comedy in Four Acts, 1950, play)
  • Der Richter und sein Henker (The Judge and His Hangman, 1952; novella)
  • "Der Tunnel" ("The Tunnel", 1952; short story)
  • Die Ehe des Herrn Mississippi (The Marriage of Mr. Mississippi, 1952, play)
  • Der Verdacht (The Quarry or Suspicion, 1953)
  • "Theaterprobleme" ("Theatre Problems", 1954, essay)
  • Der Besuch der alten Dame (The Visit, 1956, play)
  • Die Panne ("Traps" or A Dangerous Game,[3] 1956, short story / novella)
  • Das Versprechen: Requiem auf den Kriminalroman (The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel, 1958, novella)
  • Die Physiker (The Physicists: A Comedy in Two Acts, 1962, play)
  • Der Meteor (1966)
  • "Monstervortrag" ("Monster Lecture on Justice and Law, with a Helvetian Interlude", 1969, lecture)
  • "Der Sturz' ("The Coup", 1971, short story)
  • Achterloo (1982)
  • Justiz (The Execution of Justice, 1985)
  • Der Auftrag (The Assignment, 1986, novella)
  • "Die Schweiz—ein Gefängnis. Rede auf Vaclav Havel" ("Switzerland—A Prison: A Speech for Vaclav Havel", 1990, speech)

Dürrenmatt's stories in film

  • It Happened in Broad Daylight (1958), with a TV version made in 1997
  • The Marriage of Mr. Mississippi (1961)
  • The Visit (1964, Der Besuch der alten Dame)
  • Once a Greek (1966, Grieche sucht Griechin)
  • Play Strindberg (1969), based on Strindberg's The Dance of Death
  • Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe (Silence! The Court Is in Session)(1971), based on 'Die Panne' (Traps)[4]
  • La più bella serata della mia vita (1972, by Ettore Scola, based on 'La Panne')
  • End of the Game (1976), based on The Judge and His Hangman, and in which Dürrenmatt himself appears in two scenes
  • Deadly Games (1982, Trapp)
  • Cumartesi Cumartesi (1984, Salam, stories in film)
  • Физики (The Physicists) (1988, in Russian)
  • Визит дамы (The Visit of the Lady) (1989, in Russian)
  • Szürkület (Twilight) (1990, by György Fehér) based on the Es geschah am hellichten Tag movie script
  • Hyènes (1992), adaptation of The Visit by the Senegalese moviemaker Djibril Diop Mambéty
  • Justiz (1993)
  • The Pledge (2001), based on the novel Das Versprechen, which is in turn based on the Es geschah am hellichten Tag movie script


His story, 'Die Panne' (Traps) was adapted into a Marathi play, Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe (Silence! The Court Is in Session) by Indian playwright, Vijay Tendulkar in 1967, and since then been performed in various Indian languages, and made into a film by the same name by Satyadev Dubey.


  1. ^ RSI Il Salvato, di Friederich Dürrenmatt, for Rete Due, Colpo di scena, December 2010
  2. ^ Books and Authors
  3. ^ The Novels of Friedrich Dürrenmatt, London: Pan, 1985
  4. ^ Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe at the Internet Movie Database
  • Everett M. Ellestad, 'Friedrich Dürrenmatt's "Mausefalle" ("Mouse Trap"),' German Quarterly, 43, 4, 770–779, Nov. 1970.
  • Gerhard P. Knapp, "Friedrich Dürrenmatt: Studien zu seinem Werk," Poesie und Wissenschaft, XXXIII, Lothar Stiehm Verlag, Heidelberg, 1976.
  • Centre Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel
  • National Library Switzerland

External links

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