Friedrich Dürrenmatt was a Swiss playwright and author. His extensive body of work includes avant-garde dramas, scathing satires, and philosophical crime novels. Dürrenmatt was also a artist, and many of his works have been exhibited in Neuchâtel and Zürich.
Dürrenmatt was born on January 5, 1921 in the village of Konolfingen in canton of Bern. His father was a Protestant pastor and his grandfather was a conservative politician. In 1941, Dürrenmatt began attending classes at the University of Zürich, studying German philology and German literature. After one semester, he transferred to the University of Bern, where he studied natural science in addition to his German specializations. By 1943, though, Dürrenmatt dropped his academic pursuits, determined instead to become an author and dramatists.
Dürrenmatt's first play, published when he was 26 years old, was the controversial It Is Written (Ge: Es steht geschrieben). The show takes place in a city under siege, where a religious fanatic and an avowed-critic come to heads over their zealous beliefs. It Is Written premiered in April 1947 and caused fights and protests among audience members. In the two following years, Dürrenmatt wrote several sketches and short plays for the anti-Nazi Cabaret Cornichon in Zürich. The most famous of these works is the one-act The Rescued (Ge: Der Gerettete).
Dürrenmatt's first major success as a playwright was Romulus the Great: An Ahistorical Historical Comedy in Four Acts (Ge: Romulus der Große) in 1950. The comedy, set in the year 476 A.D., depicts the final days of the Roman Empire and its final emperor, Romulus. In 1956, Dürrenmatt premiered what would become his best-known work, The Visit (Ge: Der Besuch der alten Dame). The Visit, an irreverent, unsettling, dark tragicomedy, follows a wealthy woman who returns to her hometown to offer the residents a fortune to save them from bankruptcy, on one condition: they execute her former lover who abandoned and betrayed her 45 years ago. Dürrenmatt's satirical drama, The Physicists (Ge: Die Physiker) premiered in Zürich in 1962; the play, set in a sanatorium, explores the ethical responsibilities of science in the modern world. Other plays by Dürrenmatt include: The Marriage of Mississippi (Ge: Die Ehe des Herrn Mississippi, 1952); An Angel Comes to Babylon (Ge: Ein Engel kommt nach Babylon, 1953); King John (Ge: König Johann, 1968); and Play Strindberg (1969).
Like many of his contemporaries who survived World War II, Dürrenmatt's works reflect his post-WWII outlook. He was a strong advocate for epic theatre, popularizing the theatrical movement along with contemporary Bertolt Brecht. Epic theatre sought to engage the audience through a variety techniques, with the purpose of provoking introspective thought, not emotion, with their work. He was also a member of the Swiss writers' club Schweizerischer Schriftstellerverein (or SSV), and later the Gruppe Olten (En: Olten Group).
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