Durrenmatt: A Study in Plays, Prose, Theory

Durrenmatt: A Study in Plays, Prose, Theory

Copyright Date: 1977
Pages: 504
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  • Book Info
    Durrenmatt: A Study in Plays, Prose, Theory
    Book Description:

    Dürrenmatt's apparently conflicting statements about his central concerns have baffled scholars attempting to interpret his works. In his critical approach to Dürrenmatt, Timo Tiusanen emphasizes the author's relation to the theater, and analyzes the thirteen original stage plays, eight radio plays, and five adaptations, using the special concept of "scenic image" developed in an earlier study of O'Neill. Four books by Dürrenmatt on the theater and politics are related to the dramatist's creative practice, and his six books of prose are also carefully considered. Exploring the writer's career to reconcile conflicting attitudes that have been taken toward his work, Timo Tiusanen sees Dürrenmatt's writings as representing a persistent effort to express artistically a paradoxical view of the world.

    Originally published in 1978.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7146-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-ix)
    Timo Tiusanen
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. x-xi)
  5. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xii-2)
  6. Introduction: A HOST OF DÜRRENMATTS
    (pp. 3-28)

    Friedrich Dürrenmatt. A Protestant or a nihilist? A child of nature or a penetrating theoretician of the theater? A profound moralist or a charlatan? The variety of opinion is wide indeed; the point most generally agreed upon is that this Swiss author is one of the most important European playwrights to have emerged since World War II.

    Diirrenmatt’s rise to fame began in the early 1950’s. The German-speaking countries were the first he conquered. Siegfried Melchinger was the first but not the last scholar to characterize him as “the greatest power among living playwrights in the German-speaking theater.”¹ He said...

  7. Part One: Entering the Stage
    • 1 Early Prose Works: A DEAD END
      (pp. 31-42)

      The poem quoted is probably the earliest piece of literary writing extant by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. It was written during the night between January 13 and 14, 1943. Dürrenmatt and his artist friend Walter Jonas created a whole picture book on that night, with Dürrenmatt writing the poems, Jonas drawing the pictures.¹ The enterprise was more or less a joke; the book was never published. Though casually sketched, the poem contains several interesting facets: a macabre basic idea, preoccupation with God, a simplistic style continued in Dürrenmatt’s early prose. This exercise is a starting-point for his long journey into the absolute...

    • 2 Poetry in Picture Books: IT IS WRITTEN, THE BLIND MAN
      (pp. 43-70)

      “I presented scenes from uncertain times, especially the great adventures of mankind” (S 113). The storyteller in Dürrenmatt’s short story “The City” fills the walls of his attic room with drawings, thus outlining the program of Dürrenmatt the dramatist for a long time to come. Four early plays take place during adventurous, uncertain periods in the history of mankind; he needed some practice before directly approaching the turmoils of our own time. In the far-away past, there was expanse enough for Dürrenmatt’s grotesque imagination, and for the abrupt changes of tone and style he favored from the very beginning of...

  8. Part Two: A Creative Outburst
    • 3 A Judge of His Own Case: ROMULUS THE GREAT
      (pp. 73-92)

      WithRomulus the Great(Romulus der Grosse), we meet a new Friedrich Dürrenmatt. An amazing metamorphosis sinceThe Blind Man: not only has he changed from a gloomy religious ponderer into a hilarious comedian, he has also turned into a full-fledged writer for the stage—overnight, as it seems.¹ The first version of Romulus the Great had its world premiere in Basle on April 23, 1949, fifteen months after the previous play. There were, however, difficulties behind Dürrenmatt’s apparent ease in learning stagecraft. In 1948 he had devoted much time and energy to a serious play dealing with the history...

    • 4 Don Quixote in a Broken Mirror: THE MARRIAGE OF MR. MISSISSIPPI
      (pp. 93-109)

      When the Swiss production ofRomulus the Greatvisited Germany its audience included Hans Schweikart, director of the Münchener Kammerspiele. A few years later Schweikart was to help Dürrenmatt several steps forward toward a real international breakthrough by presenting three of his plays for the first time. This happened in Munich between March, 1952, and December, 1953, and the plays produced wereThe Marriage of Mr. Mississippi(Die Ehe des Herrn Mississippi),Nocturnal Conversation with a Despised Person(stage adaptation of a radio play), andAn Angel Comes to Babylon.It was of special significance for Dürrenmatt that Schweikart had...

    • 5 To Whom Grace Belongs: AN ANGEL COMES TO BABYLON
      (pp. 110-126)

      “What we have to find out now is what Heaven really intended, haven’t we?” (FP 280). This puzzled question is prompted by the central artistic invention inAn Angel Comes to Babylon(Ein Engel kommt nach Babylon), Dürrenmatt’s fifth stage play. Kurrubi, a girl “created by our Lord . . . a few moments ago,” comes to Babylon, escorted by an angel who has the task of delivering this personification of God’s grace to the lowliest of men. Heaven is there, as the background of the entire play—and as the background of its first stage picture. “A vast sky...

    • 6 Nature Behind the Scenes: THREE NOVELS
      (pp. 127-148)

      Dürrenmatt began his career as a writer of prose fiction, then turned to the stage. After he had finishedRomulus the Great,and while he was struggling with the rich and many-faceted materials ofMississippiandAngel,he wrote two detective stories for serial publication in a periodical. No doubt lack of money provided the incentive: yet these novels are worth serious consideration. Their names and dates areThe Judge and His Hangman(Der Richter und sein Henker, 1950) andThe Quarry(Der Verdacht, 1951). Together they form the second group of Dürrenmatt’s prose works; the third consists ofOnce...

    • 7 The Absolute Grotesque Takes Over: A DANGEROUS GAME, THE PLEDGE
      (pp. 149-175)

      Dürrenmatt’s alter ego in the short story “The Tunnel” had a special ability to see “the terrible behind the scenes” (S 151). A major representative of this ability of Durrenmatt’s isA Dangerous Game(Die Panne, 1956), a longish story. With it and with the novelThe Pledge(Das Versprechen, 1957) we are in the very years that indicate the highest peak in Durrenmatt's creative work;The Visitwas finished in 1955. These three works are connected by a network of cross-references, and they are also related to Durrenmatt0’s central theoretical writings. Facing this field of problems, we can note...

    • 8 More Than a Reservoir of Themes: RADIO PLAYS
      (pp. 176-201)

      The radio play has been a flourishing literary genre in postwar Germany.¹ There have been close to 500 new radio plays broadcast in the Federal Republic each year; out of these, “some 25% can claim a certain artistic quality.”² The twelve operating networks have created a continuous need for programs: it has been natural that literary debuts have been made on the radio, there have been enterprising young staffs ofDramaturgsand producers in action, and the medium itself seemed to fit the general cultural and social atmosphere in the postwar years. A great many writers chose to deal with...

    • 9 A Judge of His Own Craft: WRITINGS ON THE THEATER
      (pp. 202-222)

      FromCollected Radio PlaystoWritings on the Theater:from one anthology to another. The contents are even more diversified, ranging from memoirs to book reviews, from polemical retorts to statements of theoretical interest. From the point of view of this study,Theater-SchriftenundReden(1966) includes both primary and secondary materials. Its contents have been and will be used as secondary materials; its two pieces of memoirs already helped us to create a tentative picture of Dürrenmatt’s youth, and the diversity of his opinions was commented upon (“Introduction,” pp. 4-9 above). This chapter is devoted to theoretical writings sketching...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • 10 All Roads Lead to Guellen: THE VISIT
      (pp. 223-252)

      The Visit(Der Besuch der alten Dame) is Dürrenmatt’s sixth stage play. With it we are back at the center of his creative work. This grotesque tragicomedy not only is his best play thus far, but it also signifies a synthesis between the various aspirations of his career. Like an apex, it gathers together the lines of development followed in the preceding chapters. All roads lead to Guellen, to Dürrenmatt’s smalltown Swiss community. Guellen is a logical “Eigenwelt” not departing from our common world.¹ It is still in Central Europe, it is still in the middle of mankind.

      The play...

    • 11 Freedom Among the Gangsters: FRANK V
      (pp. 255-265)

      Both books and writers have their fates. Friedrich Dürrenmatt rose like a comet above Swiss, German, European, and world-wide theatrical horizons in the late 1950’s. AfterThe Visithe had to face something we might call “the curse of the second hit.” Expectations are high; the writer may still be somewhat embarrassed by his new position as an augur. Yesterday a nonentity; today interviewed by all the women’s magazines. This is a curse Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Edward Albee also had to face: what to write after a masterpiece, after The Glass Menagerie,The Death of a Salesman,or...

    • 12 Doctoring a Hopeless Patient: THE PHYSICISTS
      (pp. 266-286)

      The Physicists(Die Physiker), notFrank V,was to be Dürrenmatt’s second hit. After its world premiere at the Zurich Theater on February 20, 1962, the play spread like an epidemic throughout the German-speaking world. It was the most frequently performed play of the 1962–63 season, with 1,598 performances at 59 theaters.Andorraby Max Frisch, first performed in Zurich in the fall of 1961, had 1,564 presentations during two theater seasons: a rare stellar moment for Swiss drama.¹ Also a moment not to be repeated: the binary star of Dürrenmatt and Frisch was soon to be eclipsed by...

    • 13 The Other Half of the Paradox: HERCULES, THE METEOR
      (pp. 287-308)

      Hercules:a poetic play? There was once a radio play calledHercules and the Augean Stables(Herkules und der Stall des Augias), written by Dürrenmatt in 1954, discussed above on pp. 187-90. After the success ofThe PhysicistsDürrenmatt started adapting this script for the stage, and the play was ready to open in Zurich in March, 1963. There was again a lengthy incubation period, this time, however, with a difference. The topic had been given a finished and enclosed form ten years earlier; now, Diirrenmatt was not just working with an idea or nucleus. The opening of the stage...

    • 14 His Own Dramaturge: THE ANABAPTISTS
      (pp. 309-321)

      Every second play a social panorama: this was Diirrenmatt’s formula in the middle 1960’s.¹Die Wiedertäufer(The Anabaptists, first performed in March 1967) is a thoroughly rewritten version of the panoramicIt Is Written,discussed on pp. 44–60. Wolfgang Schwitter returns to the studio of his youth, Diirrenmatt to his very first play. Both feel at home and start making changes, shuffling things back and forth, rearranging the lighting. Diirrenmatt does not try to die; on the contrary, he even permits his guilty protagonist Johann Bockelson to survive the blood-bath following the siege and conquest of the city of...

    • 15 “Strindmatt or Dürrenberg?” PLAY STRINDBERG
      (pp. 322-335)

      First his own dramaturge, then theirs. “They” include Strindberg, Shakespeare, Goethe, Büchner, and Werner Diiggelin. Of them, Dügelin belongs to rather a different category. He directed the world premiere ofThe Anabaptistsin Zurich, and the cooperation thus begun was to be continued. For Dürrenmatt, Diiggelin was a new acquaintaince: a talented representative of a younger generation of stage directors, a man favoring strong colors, movement, gags, and crowd scenes. Shortly afterward he was appointed artistic director of the newly organized Basle City Theater, and at his invitation Dürrenmatt accepted a job as a resident dramaturge in Basle at the...

    • 16 Shake-Scening the Bards: FOUR ADAPTATIONS
      (pp. 336-365)

      An artist of our late age facing an immense amount of ready-made artistic shapes: one of Dürrenmatt’s dilemmas. InProblems of the Theaterand in his early practice he found his way out through parody. Parody presupposes a fresh artistic invention; it makes the artist free to deal with those shapes. In the late 1960’s Dürrenmatt discovered another possibility: he started adapting classics. In so doing he felt free to reshape his sources according to his new and personal artistic inventions. Parody means a direct confrontation between a model and its ridiculing distortion: these are, so to say, on opposite...

    • 17 Cosmic and Underground Visions: PORTRAIT OF A PLANET, THE PARTAKER
      (pp. 366-378)

      “If one could but stand outside the world, it would no longer be threatening. But I have neither the right nor the ability to be an outsider to this world” (FP 34). These words were written by Dürrenmatt in 1955, published inProblems of the Theater.HisPortrait of a Planet(Porträt eines Planeten, 1970-71)¹ begins with a scene among four outsiders to Earth. They are gods, distant and indifferent. Is Durrenmatt now asserting his right to be an outsider sharing their cool cosmic vision of Earth as a nameless and unknown planet, just about to be destroyed as its...

    • 18 Models of the State: FIVE PROSE WORKS
      (pp. 379-416)

      At first sight this last chapter seems to discuss a miscellaneous pile of books. A long essay, a travel book, a novel, a rhapsodical lecture about Israel, a collection of journalistic writings: can these various genres be brought together? During and after his year at Basle and parallel with his continued efforts as a dramaturge Dürrenmatt felt free and tempted to try his hand at various literary forms, mostly along journalistic lines. Four of the books appeared between 1969 and 1972: a volume a year. They are thus bound together by the time of their birth—and by a continuous...

    (pp. 417-440)

    In young Friedrich Dürrenmatt there is abundance everywhere. His first play,It Is Written,a lavish and chaotic social panorama, consists of static scenic images loosely bound together. There is an overdose of parody and of individual fates, expressionistic drunkenness with words and monologues, there are elements of the absolute grotesque in a richly bubbling mixture. A whole world is built up on the stage. A community gathers in meetings and choruses; an executioner is introduced in a broadly conceived crowd scene. On the other hand, man is set against the sky: the play is written by a painter and...

  10. Appendix: A LIST OF WORKS
    (pp. 441-442)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 443-468)
  12. Index
    (pp. 469-486)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 487-487)