“The Physicists”, comedy in two acts by Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt, performed and published in German as “Die Physiker” in 1962. The play, often considered Dürrenmatt’s best, addresses the ethical dilemma that arises when unscrupulous politicians gain access to scientific knowledge that has the potential to destroy the world.
Three physicists, pretending to be insane, voluntarily commit themselves to an asylum administered by a megalomaniacal psychiatrist, Dr. Mathilde von Zahnd. The ethical physicist Möbius (known as King Solomon) has incarcerated himself to prevent the world from obtaining and misusing his invention. The other two physicists (known in the sanitarium as Newton and Einstein) are really rival spies, one representing the East and the other the West, each hoping to obtain Möbius’s secret.
Möbius convinces the spies that humanity’s salvation depends on the three of them remaining secluded together. They discover that Dr. von Zahnd has stolen Möbius’s secrets and is now capable of controlling the world. Resigned, the three assume their madmen’s roles.
Friedrich Dürrenmatt was a German-speaking Swiss playwright and novelist, born in 1921 and died in 1990. He studied Philosophy and History of Art and Literature at the Universities of Bern and Zurich, also dedicating his time to draw and paint, which he abandoned to pursue a literary career. He is the author of parables in which the critique of the contemporary world imposes itself through a tragic and grotesque vision of the human condition.
He was a proponent of epic theatre whose plays reflected World War II experiences. He gained most of his fame due to his avant-garde dramas, crime novels, and some macabre satire.
Among his works are “Romulus der Grosse” (Romulus the Great, 1949), “Der Besuch der alten Dame” (The Visit of the Old Lady, 1956), and “Der Richter und sein Henker” (The Judge and His Executioner, 1986).