Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Friedrich Dürrenmatt

Dürrenmatt in 1989
Born (1921-01-05)5 January 1921
Konolfingen, Bern, Switzerland
Died 14 December 1990(1990-12-14) (aged 69)
Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Occupation Playwright, novelist
Language German
Nationality Swiss
Notable works The Physicists
The Visit
Years active 1957-1990
Spouse Lotti Geißler (1946-1983) (her death) (3 children)
Charlotte Kerr (1984-1990) (his death)

Friedrich Dürrenmatt (German: [ˈfriːdrɪç 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, philosophical crime novels, and macabre satire. Dürrenmatt was a member of the Gruppe Olten.

Early life

Dürrenmatt was born in Konolfingen, (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, German language and literature at the University of Zurich in 1941, but moved to the University of Bern after one semester where he also studied natural science. 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. Dürrenmatt married another actress, Charlotte Kerr, in 1984.

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. Next to Brecht, he has been called its "most original theorist".[1]

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 anti-Nazi Cabaret Cornichon in Zurich; among these, the single-act grotesque short play Der Gerettete (The rescued).[2]

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, Romulus. The Visit (Der Besuch der alten Dame, 1956) is a grotesque fusion of comedy and tragedy about a wealthy woman who offers the people of her hometown a fortune if they will execute the man who jilted her years earlier. The satirical drama The Physicists (Die Physiker, 1962), which deals with issues concerning science and its responsibility for dramatic and dangerous changes to the 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?"), 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.

He traveled in 1969 to the United States, in 1974 to Israel, and in 1990 to Auschwitz in Poland.

Dürrenmatt died from heart failure[3] on 14 December 1990 in Neuchâtel.

Selected bibliography

Dürrenmatt's stories in film


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. The play has since then been performed in various Indian languages, and made into a film by the same name by Satyadev Dubey.

His play The Visit has been adapted and Indianised into a play called Miss.Meena by Chennai-based theatre group 'perch'. The Visit has also been adapted as a musical by Kander & Ebb.


  1. Siegrist, Christoph (1986). "Nationalliterarische Aspekte bei Schweizer Autoren". Hansers Sozialgeschichte der deutschen Literatur vom 16. Jahrhundert bis zur Gegenwart (in German). 10. Munich/Vienna: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag. p. 665. ISBN 3-423-04352-0.
  2. RSI Il Salvato, di Friederich Dürrenmatt, for Rete Due, Colpo di scena, December 2010
  3. Liukkonen, Petri. "Friedrich Dürrenmatt". Books and Writers ( Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015.
  4. The Novels of Friedrich Dürrenmatt, London: Pan, 1985
  5. Der Meteor at the Internet Movie Database
  6. Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe at the Internet Movie Database


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