Places: The Firebugs

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Biedermann und die Brandstifter, 1958 (English translation, 1959)

First produced: 1953 as Biedermann und die Brandstifter (radio play); 1958, at the Schauspielhaus, Zurich, Switzerland (stage play)

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Absurdist

Time of work: Post-World War II

Places DiscussedBiedermann house

Biedermann Firebugs, Thehouse. Home of Gottfried Biedermann, a hair tonic manufacturer obsessed with the fear of arsonists. He lives in an unnamed large city; it could be any city, anywhere. The house itself is a gracious, somewhat ostentatious and pretentious, upper-middle-class dwelling. The whole effect is that of the nouveau riche, cushioned from the events in the real world by wealth. Money and financial reward constitute the major emphasis of the home and its residents. The staging of the play calls for a nonrealistic, simultaneous setting, showing the living room and attic.

The dangers of a life without principles are clearly illustrated by the fact that the attic is filled with cans of gasoline and other incendiary devices. Over everything hovers a sense of foreboding and impending doom represented by the attic, which is a sort of Hell. The setting for Hell is exactly the same as for the rest of the play: the Biedermann home. This device makes the point that a heaven can be a kind of Hades at the same time. Also, human beings must face the consequences of their acts, or the lack of them, at some time.

BibliographyButler, Michael. The Plays of Max Frisch. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. Most readable and succinct English introduction to Frisch’s plays, recommended for further study. Discusses The Firebugs as a parable play and analyzes its language, using translated passages in German.Jurgensen, Manfred. “The Drama of Max Frisch,” in his Perspectives on Max Frisch, 1982.Pickar, Gertrud B. The Dramatic Works of Max Frisch. Frankfurt, Germany: Lang, 1977. The most comprehensive and insightful English-language study of Frisch’s dramatic canon.Probst, Gerhard F., and Jay E. Bodine, eds. Perspectives on Max Frisch. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1982. A sampling of critical articles, including “The Drama of Frisch” by Manfred Jurgensen. Extensive international bibliography.Subiotto, Arrigo. “The Swiss Contribution.” In The German Theatre: A Symposium, edited by Ronald Hayman. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1975. Relates the dramatic works of Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt to the larger framework of modern German theater and post-World War II European politics.Weisstein, Ulrich. Max Frisch. New York: Twayne, 1967. A useful critical biography with a chronology and guide to selected sources. Contrasts The Firebugs with absurdist drama.
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