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The themes of justice and grace in three of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s early works Shaffer, Verina Tracey


In this study I am attempting to shed some light on the themes of justice and grace as they are expressed in three different works by Friedrich Durrenmatt, a contemporary Swiss playwright. The drama Es steht geschrieben (1947), the comedy Ein Engel kommt nach Babylon (1953) and the radio-play Das Unternehmen der Wega (1954) were written within a time-span of approximately eight years and can therefore be counted among the author's early works (taking into consideration that his most recent play was published in 1976). In the playwright's first drama, Es steht geschrieben, the topics of justice and grace are presented in balanced proportions, in their negative as well as positive aspects. The themes are expressed by frequent use of symbols; by parody, often of biblical revelations and events; by caricatures of certain characters; and by grotesque contrast in situations and the behaviour of the relevant types. A good deal of irony, satire and humor is explicit or implied as well. In addition, I tried to draw attention to the nature of immanent justice and grace in this drama. In Ein Engel kommt nach Babylon, the two themes are not as evenly distributed as is the case in the first work discussed. The predominance of grace seems to have resulted in less severity in the content of this play. Although the theme of justice clearly exists, it is outweighed here, by the impact of grace on man. I have attempted to elucidate Durren-matt's approach and choice of genre in conveying both of the themes in this comedy, discussing form as well as the characters employed. In Das Unternehmen der Wega, justice and grace are almost exclusively of an immanent kind. The topics are conveyed predominantly by the attitudes, motivations and behaviour of the various individuals or groups. There is little symbolism in this play but irony and satire are implicit throughout. It is a "secular" work as opposed to the two previously discussed ones, which show a strong religious content. This makes for a different philosophical outlook in this play on basic problems and their possible solutions in human existence. In all three works Durrenmatt has demonstrated convincingly, I think, how justice and grace are perceived and interpreted. Acceptance or rejection of these concepts are contingent upon the attitudes and insights of the individuals or groups in question; whether for better or worse, is still up to man's free choice.

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