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In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer


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A: Heinar Kipphardt Pf: 1964, Berlin and Munich Pb: 1964; rev. 1978 Tr: 1967 G: Documentary drama in 2 acts; German prose S: Tribunal, USA, 1954 C: 14mThe action is devoted entirely to hearings called to establish whether J. Robert Oppenheimer should have his security clearance renewed. Oppenheimer, whose team created the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, is now, in the post-war period, dragging his heels over the development of the hydrogen bomb. The first part deals with his association with left-wing sympathizers during the construction of the atom bomb, including his relationship with his communist ex-fiancée. Oppenheimer insists that members of his team were chosen for their expertise not for their political views. In the second part, the emphasis is on the present, and Oppenheimer openly admits that he has concerns about the use to which a new bomb might be put. He rejects Edward Teller's argument that the USA must take a lead in this area, before other, less scrupulous nations develop the H-bomb. He also dismisses Hans Bethe's argument that no single scientist would carry responsibility for further discoveries. Belatedly aware of the social responsibility of the scientist, Oppenheimer asserts: ‘we scientists have never had such importance and never been so powerless.’ His McCarthy-ite interrogators, of whom he says: ‘There are people who are prepared to defend freedom until there is no more of it left,’ predictably refuse his security clearance.

A: Heinar Kipphardt Pf: 1964, Berlin and Munich Pb: 1964; rev. 1978 Tr: 1967 G: Documentary drama in 2 acts; German prose S: Tribunal, USA, 1954 C: 14m

Hochhuth's success with The Representative sparked off a plethora of documentary dramas in West Germany, and this play by Kipphardt, staged by 22 more theatres after its joint Berlin and Munich premiere, succeeded better than most by concentrating, like Weiss's The Investigation, on one clearly defined topic. Kipphardt here discusses the social responsibility of the scientist, central to so many contemporary plays, from Brecht's Life of Galileo, through Zuckmayer's The Cold Light (1955) and Dürrenmatt's The Physicists, to Michael Frayn's Copenhagen.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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