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Die Physiker. Eine Komödie in zwei Akten by…
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Die Physiker. Eine Komödie in zwei Akten (original 1962; edition 1992)

by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

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Member:AFBorchert
Title:Die Physiker. Eine Komödie in zwei Akten
Authors:Friedrich Dürrenmatt
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Tags:Schweizer Literatur, Schauspiel, Komödie

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The Physicists by Friedrich Durrenmatt (1962)

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The fact is, there's nothing more scandalous than a miracle in the realm of science.

Three of history's greatest physicists meet in a drawing-room: Newton, Einstein and Möbius. Newton has a bottle of cognac hidden in the fireplace. Einstein has just strangled a woman to death. And Möbius is being visited by the ghost of King Solomon, who is telling him the secrets of a Unified Field Theory.

Except the drawing-room belongs to a Swiss insane asylum, and the three men are patients.

What follows is a playful mash-up of a country-house murder-mystery with a scientific drama-of-ideas. At first the execution reminded me of Tom Stoppard – high praise round my way, because I think Stoppard's one of the greatest writers alive. But while Stoppard's work is always discursive, and never tries to convince you of a particular position, Dürrenmatt takes a more polemic approach here – especially in the second act, where the characters are increasingly fixated on the dangers of scientific discoveries falling into the wrong hands.

She considered me an unrecognized genius. She didn't realize that today it is the duty of a genius to remain unrecognized.

Great line. Of course when this was first performed in 1962, the Cold War was still on and this felt more of a live issue. It was less than 20 years since the real Einstein had famously said that if he'd known what the results of nuclear research would be, he would have become a watchmaker. (He also said, ‘The discovery of nuclear chain reactions need not bring about the destruction of mankind any more than did the discovery of matches,’ but no one remembers that one.)

These are still crucial questions, but I think the sophistication of the debate has slightly overtaken the moral of this play. Nevertheless, there is a huge amount of fun and intellectual enjoyment to be had here, with jokes and theories and interesting dramatic ideas on every page. I'd love to see it staged – but if waiting for your local theatre to get on board seems daunting, the ideas involved make this well worth reading in the meantime. ( )
  Widsith | Oct 30, 2013 |
A quirky play from Switzerland. The central theme is that of three physicists who are committed to an asylum because they are not in contact with reality. One believes he is Albert Einstein, one believes he is Sir Isaac Newton, and the other one is Mobius. A sort of not-so typical entry in the scientists wanting to take over the world genre. This one has a couple of twists that lead to a bit of a surprise ending. The discussions between characters are typical of the time it was written, during the early 1960s, when society was obsessed with the coming nuclear holocaust, but it is still a good discussion of the intersection of science, ethics, business, and government. It loses a lot in the final wrap up speech, where the author suddenly begins to channel Pat Robertson, and blame the entire situation on turning away from God. ( )
  quantum_flapdoodle | Feb 24, 2013 |
A strange play, though it had its popularity and was performed on Broadway by Robert Shaw and Jessica Tandy. Much of the play is humorous, with one patient of the sanitarium believing he is Sir Isaac Newton, another believing he is Einstein, and they seem quite harmless except for the habit of murdering the nurses. The ending takes a bad turn into Cold War politics but on the whole a very interesting work. ( )
  mstrust | Apr 3, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802150888, Paperback)

The world’s greatest physicist, Johann Wilhelm Möbius, is in a madhouse, haunted by recurring visions of King Solomon. He is kept company by two other equally deluded scientists: one who thinks he is Einstein, another who believes he is Newton. It soon becomes evident, however, that these three are not as harmlessly lunatic as they appear. Are they, in fact, really mad? Or are they playing some murderous game, with the world as the stake? For Möbius has uncovered the mystery of the universe—and therefore the key to its destruction—and Einstein and Newton are vying for this secret that would enable them to rule the earth.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:37 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Johann Mobius, the world's greatest physicist, is locked away in a madhouse along with two other scientists. Why? Because he is haunted by recurring visions of King Solomon, and the other two are convinced they are Einstein and Newton. But are these three actually mad? Or are they playing a murdererous game with the world at stake?… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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