Just a couple moments later, Bush and Obama were seen walking along the White House collonade to the Oval Office.
The Obamas' arrival had the look of a foreign head-of-state state visit - although there were no fife and drum bands, speeches or official pageantry. The Obamas were driven up to the South Portico, where they were welcomed by the Bushes and escorted into the Executive Mansion that they'll call home in a little more than two months. BARACK OBAMA TO MEET WITH PRESIDENT BUSH AT THE WHITE HOUSE - New York Post
"Feeling for humanity, gentlemen, is cut for the purse
of an ordinary millionaire; with financial resources like mine
you can afford a new world order."
Der Besuch der alten Dame ("The Visit of the Old Lady")
premiered in Zurich in 1956, when Durrenmatt was 35.
It was such a success that productions sprang up
in England and America over the next two years.
Durrenmatt called this story "A Tragic Comedy."
More than any other of his plays, this story of an
old lady who returns home to wreak an exact and
merciless vengeance on her former lover
intimately joins comedy and tragedy to support each
other in nearly every scene.
The play really has three major characters:
the old lady, Claire Zachanassian; her former
lover and object of her ruthless justice, Alfred lll;
and the people of the town of Gullen, who make up
a kind of composite representation of society itself.
Through these characters, Durrenmatt is
able to give the audience a darkly comic, breathless,
and in the end, unanswerable debate about
the nature of justice, redemption and community.
Claire is a hodgepodge of patched-together artificial
limbs, held together only by her hate. Since her
betrayal at the hands of lll and the people of Gullen, she
has spent her life in a single-minded vengeance.
Her justice is god-like. Across all
of Europe, she pursues the two men who lied
about her in court like a fury; they are castrated
and made her slaves. Durrenmatt compares her
to an ancient idol. She is like the statue of Justice
- eternal, something out of myth.
When the townspeople first refuse her offer
of a billion marks for the life of Alfred lll,
she says quietly, "I'll wait," and you can imagine
her waiting centuries.
Amazingly, we find ourselves cheering her on;
as the play begins, she is the only character who
speaks the unadorned truth. In The Visit, characters
use language to hide their real intentions.
As Durrenmatt writes, "Today man lives in a world
which he knows less than we assume. He has lost his image
and has become a victim of images."
In The Visit, he puts the preconceptions that get us
through day-to-day life under the microscope.
Although Durrenmatt decried symbolism
("Misunderstandings creep in, because people
desperately search the hen yard of my drama
for the egg of explanation which I steadfastly
refuse to lay."), it is hard not to see the poverty
of Europe during the Depression and the slow
growth of fascism in-between the lines in
The Visit. With the ashes of World War II
still in their mouths, the people of Europe in
the 1950's faced the growing Cold War and
the shadow of the atomic bomb. The question
of how a man can hold on to his ideals in
the face of grinding poverty was still a strong
one. Many saw Claire Zachanassian as
a symbol of that desperate fear, but Durrenmatt
was steadfast: "Claire Zachanassian represents
neither justice nor the Marshall Plan,
nor the apocalypse; let her be just that which she
is, namely the richest woman in the world who
is enabled by her money to act like the
heroine of a Greek tragedy, absolutely,
cruelly, perhaps like Medea..."
Durrenmatt wrote about the town of Gullen
(meaning "excrement" in Swiss),
"It is a community which slowly yields
to temptation...yet this yielding must be understandable.
The temptation is too great, the poverty is too bitter.
(The Visit) is a malicious play, but just for that reason,
it must be presented without anger and in
the most humane way, with sadness yet with humor,
for nothing hurts this comedy that ends
tragically than brutal seriousness."
Durrenmatt uses the people of the town to
show the weakness of authority, the disorder
just beneath the civilization's order. When
the people of Gullen begin to buy expensive
items on credit, lll panics, and goes for help
to his Family, the Government (the Mayor),
the Law (the police chief) and the Church
(the minister). He is rebuffed at every turn.
Even the teacher, representing Intellectualism,
sees what is happening but is too weak to fight it.
With no where to turn, lll takes responsibility
for his crime. He achieves the serenity and
acceptance that Durrenmatt saw as the pinnacle
of human heroism. He gains stature in our eyes
through this transformation. He can reject
the city's offer to commit suicide;
the town, too, must be made to face
In The Visit, lll is the only character who changes
and grows. Claire is sterile in everything
but her need for revenge; the people of Gullen do nothing
but reveal their true, rotten selves. Only lll has
the epiphany of self-knowledge that
Durrenmatt prized so highly.
At the end of the play, with lll dead at the town's
feet and Claire's check in the Mayor's hand,
"order" and "community" are restored,
but now the audience knows these ideas are
As Peppard writes, "In the closing scene,
the townspeople appear as much slaves
as they did at the beginning; if at first
they were victims of poverty, they are now
the captives of prosperity. Only lll has found
freedom, and he has attained it only by
a withdrawal from the community into death."
In The Visit, Durrenmatt writes a classical
tragedy for the 20th century, a modern answer
to ancient questions of honor, loyalty and
community. When The Visit was written,
the world was on the brink of disaster, and
every town was a Gullen. He wrote that in
the 20th century because "we no longer
find tragic heroes, but only tragedies staged by
world butchers and carried out by meat-grinding
machines...power today is only minimally visible,
since like an iceberg the largest part is sunk
in faceless abstraction...Today's state has become
impossible to survey, anonymous and bureaucratic...
genuinely representative people are lacking and
the tragic heroes have no name."
"Everything is dragged along and everyone gets caught somewhere in the course of events. We are all collectively guilty...Comedy alone gets at our problems."
Born January 5, 1921 in Konolfingen, Switzerland, Friedrich Durrenmatt bore an interesting and telling background: his father, Reinhold, was a Protestant minister, his grandfather Ulrich, was a behind-the-scenes man in Swiss politics and a well-known satirist. These different threads would meet in the young playwright and thinker.