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Copenhagen by Michael Frayn

Copenhagen (1998)

by Michael Frayn

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מחזה מעניין מאוד על דילמה היסטורית פיזיקלי​ ( )
  amoskovacs | Jul 19, 2014 |
I didn't love this as much as I wanted to. This play centers around two meetings between Bohr and Heisenberg in Copenhagen. The first in 1941, during the war, where the play conveys the 'uncertainty' (get it...) about what Heisenberg's intentions were, what happened at ...the meeting -- was Heisenberg warning Bohr about the German bomb project, deliberately sabotaging it, seeking help on it, looking for someone to spy on the Americans, etc. The second is in 1947 in which they try, unsuccessfully, to resolve that uncertainty. All of the story told in the form of dialogue between the two of them and Bohr's wife after they all have died.

It is well done, there is lots of thought-provoking dialogue and thoughts, and you can't blame Frayn for the lack of anything resembling clear resolution.

But somehow something was still missing. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
Speculative fiction exploring possibilities of what occurred in the meeting between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in 1941 Copenhagen. The author presents two scenarios, one of which explores the possibility of Heisenberg not being able to create the nuclear bomb Hitler wanted, the other with Heisenberg deliberately stalling the process to prevent the production of the bomb. Discussions of physics and relationships, war and atrocities, ethics and responsibilities drive this work. It is minimalist, but has a great deal of depth. In the end, though, it still makes the mistake of putting the entire responsibility for nuclear weapons on the heads of science, merely touching on the other realities that were operating in the world, and the pressures felt by the scientists. This is better than most, as it does at least acknowledge the world surrounding the scientists, but the chief question of the day is still a simplification of the complex world in which the bomb was born. ( )
  quantum_flapdoodle | Dec 23, 2013 |
I don't usually read plays. In fact, I cannot recall reading any since high school. So the joy I got out of reading this one was a pleasant surprise.

Brilliant! Really impressive how Michael Frayn has taken an idea from theoretical physics and turned it into a philosophical play. The dialogue goes back and forth, twirls and flows and makes you think.

A got hold of a copy of this play after being captivated by a production of [b:Democracy: A Play|200147|Democracy A Play|Michael Frayn|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1311981735s/200147.jpg|193631] at The Old Vic in 2012. A play that had barely any action and totally relied on the dialogue to tell its story. Just a half dozen men, dressed in suits, with hardly anything else. It held my attention from the first minute to the last. I went home and found this play here on GoodReads. Luckily the lovely bookshop at the National Theater had a few copies. (Great little bookshop for browsing, by the way.)

Copenhagen is similar to Democracy in that it has no action, merely dialogue. It also focuses on a famous German, on real people who had to choose between friendship and patriotism. Choices whose outcome had huge consequences for mankind.

I can recommend this Methuen Students' Edition. The long commentary in the beginning is very informative. The author also adds a lot more interesting information about the scientists and The Bomb in the post- and post-post scripts. All make for interesting reading in their own right. The post-post script contains some information that has come to light since the play was originally written.

Can recommend this to anyone who enjoys the exploration of philosophical ideas and clever writing. It is also interesting as an example of how English perception and attitudes towards Germany has shifted ever so slightly since the years immediately after the war.

I'll be in the queue next time any play by Michael Frayn is staged in my neighbourhood. Saw [b:Noises Off|160194|Noises Off|Michael Frayn|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320486520s/160194.jpg|746005] years ago, completely different, but also brilliant. ( )
  pengvini | Mar 30, 2013 |
Sometimes I give books "theme songs": their themes, dialogue or storyline may remind me of a song I know (and usually like). In the case of Copenhagen, it's the Blue Rodeo tune "5 A.M. (A Love Song)", from which I quote in this review (in italics). It's about figuring out the motivations behind a relationship and sorting out how one personally feels about it.

Funny how I'm always here with you
I never meant to change your world
Or change your point of view

Werner Heisenberg paid a visit to his old friend and mentor, Niels Bohr, in Copenhagen during the Second World War: 1941, to be precise. They were on opposite sides: Bohr a citizen of an occupied country, Heisenberg part of the German science program. Why did Heisenberg visit at all? What did he say that made their friendship go so terribly wrong? Nobody knows for sure, but the visit did actually happen. In this play, Frayn imagines Heisenberg, Bohr and Bohr's wife, Margrethe, as spirits in the afterlife discussing the meeting and trying to figure out Heisenberg's motivations.

And as we sort out the 'Who said? You said', "Who said? I said",
I only wish I came a little better prepared

This is very much a thinking/talking play. Not much actually happens, but there is a lot of discussion. In one way it is a very good introduction to the theories and achievements of the two physicists; they use analogies involving skiing or cards to describe the concepts of uncertainty and complementarity, for example. There is also an element of repetition that reinforces some of the concepts being discussed. The characters themselves have an odd, formal way of interacting, but then that could be how people talk in the afterlife when English is not their first language! It does read fairly quickly, being all dialogue, but it is also something to stop and ponder for a while.

I'll say that you're right
If you just say that I'm right
Let's hit the hay and call this case closed

Frayn also provides an excellent postscript where he describes the historical events surrounding this meeting and provides some insights into the writing process. Also interesting is his discussion of Heisenberg's paper, the one that described what we know today as the uncertainty principle. Because Heisenberg originally wrote in German, there is something lost in the translation. The word he uses in his memoirs and the final version of the paper is "Unbestimmtheit," which doesn't have an exact equivalent but could be derived from "bestimmen", which means "to determine/to ascertain". So a more precise but less familiar translation might be "indeterminacy". The first draft of the paper used the word "Ungenauigheit", meaning "inexactness." Meanwhile, Bohr tended to use the word "Unsicherheit", meaning "unsureness", which is closer to the connotations that "uncertainty" has in English. It's a very interesting conundrum that the words used to describe the uncertainty principle are themselves uncertain when rendered in another language!

As a reading experience, this was a three-star, meaning that I liked it and it met my expectations. Extra half-star for the thought provoking that led me to make the connection with the song. I suspect I will be thinking about this book for a while. If you like science and plays that make you think, this might be the ticket for you. ( )
  rabbitprincess | Feb 7, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385720793, Paperback)

For most people, the principles of nuclear physics are not only incomprehensible but inhuman. The popular image of the men who made the bomb is of dispassionate intellects who number-crunched their way towards a weapon whose devastating power they could not even imagine. But in his Tony Award-winning play Copenhagen, Michael Frayn shows us that these men were passionate, philosophical, and all too human, even though one of the three historical figures in his drama, Werner Heisenberg, was the head of the Nazis' effort to develop a nuclear weapon. The play's other two characters, the Danish physicist Niels Bohr and his wife, Margrethe, are involved with Heisenberg in an after-death analysis of an actual meeting that has long puzzled historians. In 1941, the German scientist visited Bohr, his old mentor and long-time friend, in Copenhagen. After a brief discussion in the Bohrs' home, the two men went for a short walk. What they discussed on that walk, and its implications for both scientists, have long been a mystery, even though both scientists gave (conflicting) accounts in later years.

Frayn's cunning conceit is to use the scientific underpinnings of atomic physics, from Schrödinger's famous cat to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, to explore how an individual's point of view renders attempts to discover the ultimate truth of any human interaction fundamentally impossible. To Margrethe, Heisenberg was always an untrustworthy student, eager to steal from her husband's knowledge. To Bohr, Heisenberg was a brilliant if irresponsible foster son, whose lack of moral compass was part of his genius. As for Heisenberg, the man who could have built the bomb but somehow failed to, his dilemma is at the heart of the play's conflict. Frayn's clever dramatic structure, which returns repeatedly to particular scenes from different points of view, allows several possible theories as to what his motives could have been. This isn't the first play to successfully merge the worlds of science and theater (one is inevitably reminded of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia and Hapgood), but it's certainly one of the most dramatically successful. --John Longenbaugh

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:17:42 -0400)

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The Student Edition of Frayn's multi-award winning play includes a full commentary and notes.

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