A Study of Friedrich Durrenmatt's Hero in Romulus Der Grosse, Der Besuch Der Alten Dame, and Die Physiker

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Master of Arts (MA)


Languages & Literatures


The fact that Durrenmatt is a writer of Komodien is well-known. He maintains that in depicting the present, comic elements must be used in order to create distance between the action on the stage and the audience. This does not mean that the tragic is entirely impossible, but rather that a portrayal of the tragic can only be attained through the comedy. And indeed the outcome of a Durrenmatt Komodie better resembles that of the tragedy than that of the comedy. Keeping in mind that there is then a mixture of the comic and the tragic, it is the purpose of this thesis to establish what type of hero is portrayed in Durrenmatt’s so-called comedies.

Basic similarities between Durrenmatt’s theoretical writings on the subject of comedy and Aristotle’s description of tragedy are discussed. This comparison provides a basis for an examination of the characteristics of the Durrenmatt hero, which correspond to either the tragic or the comic hero described by Aristotle. In relation to this, Durrenmatt’s own writings on the subject of the hero are also considered. Durrenmatt’s actual heroes in his dramas are seen to have more in common with the tragic than with the comic hero of Aristotle.

The characters discussed are Spurius Titus Mamma, Amilian, Theodorich, Odoaker, and Romulus in Romulus der Grosse; Ill in Der Besuch der alten Dame; and Mobius in Die Physiker. On the basis of these separate examinations similarities between the three main characters, i.e., Romulus, Ill, and Mobius, are investigated.

As Durrenmatt sees it, modern man lives in a chaotic world. Whoever recognizes the senselessness, the hopelessness of this world has the possibility of either enduring or falling into despair. Endurance is the heroic act of Durrenmatt's Mutiger Menshc. Since Romulus, Ill, and Mobius accept their inevitable, unalterable fate and do not fall into despair, they are examples of the mutiger Mensch, who is the personification of the only possible type of heroism in our modern world. This type of heroism is, however, only on an individual, not on a universal level. The hero can have no wholly positive effect on his environment, but can win for himself an inner peace, salvation.

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