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Fire-Raiser


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AT: Biedermann and the Firebugs A: Max Frisch Pf: 1958, Zurich Pb: 1958 Tr: 1962 G: Drama in 6 scenes, prelude, and epilogue; German prose S: Middle-class home in Central Europe, late 1940s, and hell C: 5m, 3f, chorus (m)Gottlieb Biedermann (the name suggests a solid middle-class citizen), a hair-tonic manufacturer, is visited one evening by a homeless wrestler, Joseph Schmitz. Despite his fears about arsonists in the area, Biedermann is inveigled into offering Schmitz shelter for the night. The Chorus of firemen report that all is quiet. The following day, Biedermann is alarmed to discover that his wife has taken in Schmitz's friend Willi Eisenring, who lost his job as waiter when his establishment burnt down. When Biedermann discovers his two unwanted guests rolling in barrels of petrol, he threatens to throw them out. He is interrupted by a policeman, informing him that an employee that he unfairly sacked has committed suicide. Telling the policeman that the barrels contain only hair-tonic, Biedermann finds himself implicated in Schmitz and Eisenring's plan. In order to appease the two, Biedermann invites them to dinner. Turning to the audience, he voices his suspicions but asks what they would have done – and when. At the end of the dinner, as a sign of trust, the arsonists ask Biedermann for matches. The whole district bursts into flames, and the chorus of firemen bewail the calamity. In the Epilogue, hell is presided over by Satan (Eisenring). Biedermann tries to defend his actions, and when the Chorus sing of the fine new city that has been built, he assumes that he and his wife are saved.

AT: Biedermann and the Firebugs A: Max Frisch Pf: 1958, Zurich Pb: 1958 Tr: 1962 G: Drama in 6 scenes, prelude, and epilogue; German prose S: Middle-class home in Central Europe, late 1940s, and hell C: 5m, 3f, chorus (m)

Although often assumed to be an allegory about the rise of Nazism, the immediate inspiration for The Fire Raisers was the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948. The exploration of the way in which the complacent middle classes can be manipulated is relevant to many situations. Although essentially realistic, the parody Chorus and direct address to the audience lend the piece added theatricality.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Authors

Maurice Gee (b. 1931)


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