Critical Context

Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s evolution as a playwright was a complex one, and The Visit mirrors the issues that concerned him for most of his life. His childhood was spent in a Swiss village that resembles Gullen, and some of his earliest recollections are of studying the townspeople of his hometown of Konolfingen, near Berne. The son of a Protestant minister, he was educated at local schools and at the University of Berne. Because the Switzerland of his formative years was an island of peace in a world at war, the issues of humanity and justice swirled around his country, and Dürrenmatt became deeply interested in justice and in its administration. He was also concerned about the self-satisfied attitude of many of his countrymen who chose stability, security, and common sense over intellectual daring and humanitarianism. Moreover, he was afraid of the vast powers of the modern megastate when controlled by a dictator. Thus, his commentaries on society, both in his prose and in his plays, often look at justice in society and justice for the individual, which, when followed to a logical conclusion, often led to grotesque results.

In the development of post-World War II theater, grotesque refers to a middle ground between epic theater and absurdist theater. Epic theater is predicated upon the changeability of the world, and the playwright tries to demonstrate alternatives to the playgoer; absurdist theater conceives of the world as immutable and senseless. In grotesque theater, the world is neither rational nor senseless. As uncertainty is the only certainty, a play must have elements of tragedy and of comedy within it, for that is the essence of life itself. Only tragicomedy can give an appearance of reality while the world is being questioned, which is the function of the playwright. Hence, Dürrenmatt’s plays are tragicomedies in which he poses questions regarding issues that concern him deeply.

In his first play, Es steht geschrieben (pr., pb. 1947; It Is Written, 1960; revised as Die Wiedertaufer, pr., pb. 1967, The Anabaptists, 1967), Dürrenmatt presents a...

(The entire section is 872 words.)