The visit of the old lady

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Title: The visit of the old lady
Genus: tragicomedy
Original language: German
Author: Friedrich Dürrenmatt
Publishing year: 1956
Premiere: January 29, 1956
Place of premiere: Schauspielhaus Zurich , Zurich
Place and time of the action: Güllen, a small town


  • The visitor
    • Claire Zachanassian , née Wäscher, multimillionaire (Armenian-Oil)
    • Her spouses VII – IX
    • The Butler
    • Chewing gum:
      • Toby
      • Roby
    • Blind:
      • Koby
      • Loby
  • The Visited:
    • Alfred Ill
    • His wife
    • His daughter
    • His son
    • The mayor
    • The pastor
    • The teacher
    • The doctor
    • The policeman
    • Citizens:
      • The first
      • The second
      • The third
      • The fourth
    • The painter
    • First wife
    • Second woman
    • Miss Luise
  • The others:
    • Station board
    • Platoon leader
    • Conductor
    • Seizure officer Glutz
  • The annoying ones:
    • Press man I.
    • Press man II
    • Radio reporter
    • camera operator

The visit of the old lady is a “tragic comedy” in three acts by the Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt . The premiere with Therese Giehse in the female lead took place on January 29, 1956 in Zurich . The play became a worldwide success and brought Dürrenmatt financial independence.


The billionaire Claire Zachanassian visits the impoverished small town of Güllen, where she once spent her childhood and youth as Klara ("Kläri") washer. While the residents hope for financial donations and investments, Claire primarily wants revenge for an old injustice: When she was expecting a child from 19-year-old Alfred Ill (ILL) from Güllen at the age of 17, he denied paternity and won with help bribed witness to the trial brought against him by Klara. Dishonored, defenseless and poor, Klara Wäscher had to leave her home, lost her child, became a prostitute, but later made a huge fortune by marrying an oil well owner (followed by eight other marriages).

The now highly respected "old lady" has secretly bought up all of Güllen's factories and properties in preparation for her visit in order to gradually ruin the city. Now, 45 years after her expulsion, she is making an offer that is as tempting as it is immoral to the Güllenern, who have become particularly susceptible to corruption and financial straws, and promises: “One billion for Güllen if someone kills Alfred Ill. [...] Justice for a billion. ”The residents initially reject this demand indignantly, but at the same time they begin to live beyond their means, to borrow and spend money, and the merchants grant loans as if everyone were with one expect an early asset growth. Ill tries in vain to convince Claire, to apologize for his mistake and to talk his friends into conscience. There is no one who does not want to be infected by the unexpected prosperity bacillus. The mayor orders the construction of a new town house, the pastor has already bought a new bell for the church. Especially in the conversation between Ill and the supposedly trustworthy pastor, it becomes clear that no one is behind Ill. Everyone suddenly struts in brand new yellow shoes as if on gold coins, and even Ill's own family goes along with the consumer frenzy: his wife buys an expensive fur coat, the son a fast car and the daughter takes tennis lessons . They all feign solidarity, hypocritically declare “their Ill” to be the “most popular citizen of the city” and downplay the general danger. Only the local teacher, who as a “humanist” feels obliged to remorse, dares to speak the truth - but only if he is hopelessly drunk and is therefore no longer taken seriously.

When Ill finally, worn down by guilt and fear, wants to flee and emigrate to Australia, he is surrounded by the Güllenern as farewell: knowing that "someone" will hold him back, he does not dare to board the train, the one without him departs. “As afraid as a hunted animal” Ill realizes: “I am lost.” A little later the mayor brings him a loaded rifle and leaves it in Ill's shop inviting him to commit suicide. However, those who hesitate, grow beyond themselves and change their minds. His resignation turns into insight and he decides to surrender himself to his fellow citizens. The mayor proudly announces in the press that Ms. Zachanassian has donated a billion-dollar foundation to the city through her childhood friend Ill. In front of the cameras, the citizens vote on acceptance or rejection of the foundation, i.e. - the real meaning remains hidden from the press - on the killing of Ill. In the absence of the public, the citizens then form an alley for Ill, which closes closer and closer to him. When it opens again, Ill is dead on the floor. "Heartbeat" and "Death for joy" are the comments from the medical officer and the mayor; the press adopts this opinion. Claire has the deceased put in a coffin she had brought with her - "It's the way it was again" -, hands the mayor the billion-dollar check and travels to Capri, where a mausoleum is already waiting for Ill's body.


  • The playwright came up with the idea for The Visit of the Old Lady during a stay in the Bern community of Ins in the Seeland.
  • According to Ulrich Weber's interpretation (see report by the Swiss Literature Archive), the idea of ​​the revenge motif was born in 1953/55 as a narrative Lunar Eclipse (published in 1981 in substances I – III (labyrinth) ). This story was revised by the author in 1978 and produced as a radio play by Radio DRS in 1996 .
  • The novella Lunar Eclipse laid the basis for The Visit of the Old Lady in the early 1950s and is little known. In her student thesis, Sophie Männel writes On Dürrenmatt's Lunar Eclipse and The Visit of the Old Lady - Backgrounds of Origin and a comparative comparison of the origins and changes in the motif of revenge.


Claire Zachanassian

Claire Zachanassian lived in Güllen when she was a child and was known there under the name 'Kläri Wäscher'. At that time, at the age of 17, she was in a secret relationship with 20-year-old Alfred Ill, from whom she became pregnant. However, he denied paternity and brought two witnesses bribed with schnapps at the following court hearing. These stated that they allegedly slept with Kläri as well. This resulted in Ill winning the trial. The pregnant Kläri had to leave the city humiliated. In a foreign country she became a prostitute and lost her child, who died soon after. Eventually, however, she ran into a billionaire who married her. With ever changing husbands, divorce proceedings and inheritance running into the millions, she has become a multi-billionaire over time. Now she calls herself Claire Zachanassian. 50 years after the defamation by Alfred Ill, she returns to Güllen as a proud, rich and elderly lady. The place has been very impoverished in recent years. That is why the residents are hoping for a generous donation from their returned 'Kläri washers'. But the old lady has not forgotten what was done to her all those years ago and brings her money into the game: knowing that the Güllner hope for just that, she offers a billion for the death of Alfred Ill and wants to do so ensure their own justice. At the beginning the inhabitants of the poor village refuse to participate in the murder, but the temptation is growing and so it is up to Güllens whether and how long Alfred Ill will live.

Alfred Ill

Alfred Ill is the male protagonist of the 'tragic comedy'. He is 65 years old and has a wife, daughter and son. At a young age, he apparently had a happy relationship with Klara Wäscher (who later became Claire Zachanassian). For financial reasons he left her and denied the paternity of their child in court. He finally married Mathilde Blumhard because of her grocer's shop and hoped that this would give him financial security. At first the citizens of Güllens do not want to kill Ill. But they are running up more and more debt. This makes Ill paranoid. He thinks that with the prosperity to come, his death would be a done deal. After he has finally come to terms with his death, he lets himself be killed by the Güllenern.

Family of Alfred Ill

Alfred Ill has a wife (Mathilde Blumhard), a daughter (Ottilie) and a son (Karl).

Mathilde Blumhard, as she was originally called, had a lot of money when she was young. Ill owes his wealth to Mathilde. Because of her, he leaves Claire in his youth. She reacted to the offer for justice - like all the other Güllners - shocked and emotional, but finally, like the other Güllners, she begins to buy new clothes and other items. Ottilie, Ill's daughter, also gets into a shopping spree. She is an educated girl who is taking a training course in French and English. She also studies literature and takes tennis lessons on the side. Karl is the son of Ill. Like his mother and sister, he falls into a shopping frenzy because he has bought a new car. It turns out that even the closest family will stab Ill in the back. This shows that no one is protected from corruption by money.

police officer

The policeman Hahncke is the symbol of the corrupt and corruptible state order. Right at the beginning when Claire arrives, when she asks him if he would turn a blind eye from time to time, he replies: “Where else would I get to in Güllen?” He also drinks beer and smokes cigarettes while talking to Ill. When Alfred Ill demands the arrest of Claire Zachanassian, the policeman dismisses all of Ill's arguments and tries to convince him that his fear is only his imagination.

The pastor

The pastor is a pious and devout, but also corruptible man who is highly respected in the village of Güllen. I'll seek advice from him. The pastor has a split opinion, on the one hand he wants the money from Mrs. Zachanassian, on the other hand he represents morality in front of the citizens. At the end of the conversation, he can only advise Ill to flee, as he wants to avoid that Ill's presence tempts the Güllner.



At the beginning of the drama, Güllen is described as shabby, impoverished and desolate.

In the further course it becomes clear that this was not always the case. Many shops and factories that were once important are broke and empty. Even the train station has lost its importance. The trains that used to stop there no longer stop.

The citizens tell each other that famous personalities used to visit Güllen and Güllen was also of cultural importance. Güllen hopes for help from Claire Zachanassian. However, they do not know that Claire Zachanassian bought all of the previously flourishing businesses and is therefore responsible for Güllen's ruin.



Heinz Ludwig Arnold sees the visit of the old lady as a "piece of the corruption of the people and the guilt of an individual", whereby it is not an arbitrarily applicable parable , but an unchangeable parable : "the image of the human world on the stage". For Friedrich Torberg it is "the old lady corruption, [...] the old lady temptation , the old lady speculation on human greed" that visits the city of Güllen. The reaction of the citizens of Güllen proves “the human willingness to get used to what is inhuman and what has been recognized as inhuman.” The play, “originally with the subtitle comedy of boom ”, is “interpreted in the east as a satire on capitalism”.


On the one hand, Dürrenmatt uses motifs of tragedy as well as means of comedy in his drama and links these to classic tragicomedy . The consistent themes of “Doom and Judgment”, “Guilt and Atonement”, “Vengeance and Sacrifice” and the final use of two choirs also document this deliberate borrowing from ancient Greek tragedy .

On the other hand, Dürrenmatt makes frequent use of typical stylistic devices of the parable and the grotesque and thus realizes his very own, specific theater concept. In addition to the macabre plot, the bizarre figure of Claire Zachanassian herself and her exotic entourage are characteristic of this . In addition to the idiot ex-husbands 7 to 9 and a butler (the chief judge in the paternity case at the time), the latter also includes her two scary servants (two chewing gum-chewing "monsters" and robberies whom she ransomed from the penitentiary), two blind twins who always lisped in unison Eunuchs (the former witnesses in the perjured paternity trial, whom Claire castrated and blinded and now carries with her as ridiculous jumping jacks like little dogs), furthermore a black panther , who is a well-behaved sexual prop ("black panther", the young Kläri used to call her wild one Beloved Alfred Ill) is always only mentioned, but never shown, symbolically it stands for nature and the original, which is ultimately wiped out by the manure farmers and which now only allow "artificial" nature (natural simulation is represented by the manure farmers) - and last but not least, an empty coffin.


As the author himself suggests in his afterword, numerous references to ancient tragedy can be found in the visit of the old lady . The heroine Claire Zachanassian has waited 45 years for her revenge. Dürrenmatt compared her to Medea because of her relentlessness . As the “richest woman in the world” she has financial leverage that allows her to exploit the city's citizens for their own ends. Her wealth enables her to “act like a heroine of Greek tragedy, absolutely, cruelly, like Medea, for example.” But she is not only comparable to the Greek heroine, but rather becomes the goddess of vengeance herself Her hometown is given so much power that she has unlimited control over fate. The impression of a goddess is reinforced by the fact that Dürrenmatt endowed her with a pseudo-immortality: As the only survivor of a plane crash, she is surrounded by the aura of the wonderful and overwhelming - even if a look behind the grotesque scenes shows that her once flawless body is now only is still held together by numerous prostheses. Initially venerated by the city like a distant idol, it gained increasing influence and eventually became the master of life and death.

The original culprit, the shopkeeper Alfred Ill, is the only one who goes through a cathartic process of purification. As an individual who is confronted with his inevitable fate, after initial cowardice he gains in size through his attitude and insight, develops a moral awareness and thus ultimately becomes a tragic hero .

Formally, a comparison with the ancient form of tragedy is evoked primarily by the two choirs , which Dürrenmatt had at the end of the day make a cynical comment that extolled the “sacred good of prosperity”. During his visit to the old lady, for example, he linked the motto “Money is power” - Dürrenmatt's typical “criticism of the western affluent society” - with the topoi of Greek tragedy: “Doom and judgment, guilt and atonement, revenge and sacrifice.


With its theme of the purchasability of an entire city, the piece is a “ridiculous grotesque”. The citizens are initially shown as "honest citizens", but then soon presented as ridiculous figures in that they succumb to the seduction of money. Liars, greedy fraudsters, and idle phrase thrashers are all part of the classic comedy characters. This contrasts with the fate of the individual who realizes his guilt and is able to deal with it seriously. In contrast to the mindless crowd, Alfred Ill proves to be the only serious moral person in town.

Dürrenmatt's use of meaningful names is striking . It is no coincidence that the city is called “Güllen” (cf. Gülle ), because it turns out to be a swamp of inhumanity and a quagmire of immorality. No wonder that the citizens are in favor of changing the name to “ gold ” (see gold ).

Further examples are the name "Zachanassian", which is composed of the names of the billionaires Zaharoff , Onassis and Gulbenkian , who were very well known at the time of Dürrenmatt , or the names "Ill" and "Klara Wäscher" (Zachanassian's birth name), which symbolically remind us that the sick ill (see FIG. engl. ill ) of Claire Z. again washed clean to be.

In contrast, the strikingly homophonic names that Claire gave her puppet-like companions speak in a completely different way : Koby and Loby for the castrati , Roby and Toby for the convicts, Boby for the butlers and Moby, Hoby and Zoby for the last three Husbands - all almost identical diminutive , which seem to have arisen out of an unimaginative childish whim. As monotonous, as it were alphabetical rhymes, they resemble mere numbers and thus degrade their wearers to interchangeable objects, ridiculous stencils and play figures.


  • The piece was rewritten by Dürrenmatt for an opera; the music comes from Gottfried von Eine . The world premiere took place in Vienna in 1971: The Old Lady's Visit .
  • In 1973 a Bernese dialect version was performed by the Emmentaler Liebhaberbühne in Hasle near Burgdorf .
  • In 1983 Markus Zohner brought out the first performance in Latvian at the Jaunais Riga Teatris.
  • In the series “Theater am Tatort” the play was performed in Ins on an open-air stage in 1986 .
  • On July 16, 2013, a musical version of the material premiered on the Thunerseespiele stage (music: Moritz Schneider, Michael Reed; lyrics: Wolfgang Hofer ; book adaptation: Christian Struppeck), and in 2014 it ran at the Ronacher in Vienna.

Film adaptations


David Bielmann's crime comedy The Russian woman's visit refers several times to Dürrenmatt's work: The very rich Russian Swetlana Zenowa comes to a small town to take over the local ice hockey club and finally lead it to the championship with her money, but requires the head of a fan.

Various reviewers also recognized parallels to Dürrenmatt's work in Lars von Trier's film Dogville .

Book editions

  • The visit of the old lady. A tragic comedy. With an afterword [by the author]. Arche, Zurich 1956 (original edition)
  • The visit of the old lady. A tragic comedy. New version. Diogenes, Zurich 1980; ibid. 1998, ISBN 3-257-23045-1 (work edition 5)


  • The visit of the old lady. In: Kindlers literature dictionary . (KNLL) Vol. 4, study edition, p. 920 f.
  • Heinz Beckmann: A tragic comedy. Friedrich Dürrenmatt, “The Old Lady's Visit” [review of February 3, 1956 on the performance in Zurich]. In: Heinz Beckmann: After the game. Theater reviews 1950–1962. Langen-Müller, Munich 1963, pp. 149–151.
  • Luis Bolliger, Ernst Buchmüller : The visit of the old lady. In: Play Dürrenmatt. A reading and picture book. Diogenes, Zurich 1996, ISBN 3-257-06095-5 , pp. 73-96.
  • Manfred Brauneck (Hrsg.): World literature in the 20th century. Author Lexicon. Reinbek near Hamburg 1981, ISBN 3-499-16266-0 .
  • Paul-Josef Breuer: The Old Lady's Visit. In: Kurt Bräutigam (Hrsg.): European comedies, represented by individual interpretations. Moritz Diesterweg, Frankfurt 1964, pp. 214–242.
  • Hugo Dittberner : Dürrenmatt, the storyteller. A $ 50 misunderstanding about “visiting the old lady”. In: Heinz Ludwig Arnold (Hrsg.): Friedrich Dürrenmatt I. In: text + criticism . Journal of Literature. Volume 50/51, 1976, pp. 86-92.
  • Manfred Durzak: Judgment on a World: The Old Lady's Visit. In: Manfred Durzak: Dürrenmatt - Fresh - White. German drama of the present between criticism and utopia. Reclam, Stuttgart 1972, ISBN 3-15-010201-4 , pp. 91-102.
  • Egon Ecker: Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The suspicion. The visit of the old lady. 5th revised edition. Beyer, Hollfeld, 2004, ISBN 3-88805-158-4 .
  • Wilhelm Große: The visit of the old lady. In: Wilhelm Große: Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Literary knowledge. Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-15-015214-3 , pp. 67-79.
  • Karl S. Guthke : Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The visit of the old lady. In: Manfred Brauneck (Ed.): The German Drama from Expressionism to the Present. Interpretations. Buchner, Bamberg 1972, ISBN 3-7661-4303-4 , pp. 241-249.
  • Willi Huntemann (Ed.): Explanations and documents on Friedrich Dürrenmatt. The visit of the old lady. Reclam, Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-15-016071-8 .
  • Urs Jenny : The old lady's visit. In: Urs Jenny: Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Friedrich, Velber 1965, DNB 452195306 ; dtv 6806, Munich 1973, pp. 61–72, (= Friedrich's playwright of the world theater . Volume 6).
  • Bernd Matzkowski: Explanations to Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The visit of the old lady. (= King's explanations: text analysis and interpretation . 366). C. Bange, Hollfeld 2013, ISBN 978-3-8044-1907-0 .
  • Annemarie and Wolfgang van Rinsum: Friedrich Dürrenmatt: “The Old Lady's Visit”. In: Annemarie and Wolfgang van Rinsum: Interpretations. Dramas. bsv , Munich 1978, ISBN 3-7627-2143-2 , pp. 183-193.
  • Karl Heinz Ruppel : The Old Lady's Visit. In: Reclam's Acting Guide. Reclam , Stuttgart 1953. (21st edition, ibid. 2001, ISBN 3-15-010483-1 )

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Friedrich Dürrenmatt alludes to the Armenian oil magnate and philanthropist Calouste Gulbenkian with the figure of the dubious benefactress Claire Zachanassian and her foundation . The name Zachanassian comes from the moving together of Zacharoff , Onassis and Gulbenkian. According to Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The old lady's visit. Tragic Comedy, Zurich: Diogenes 1998, p. 141.
  2. Final report Switzerland. Literature archive ( memento of October 30, 2013 in the Internet Archive ), see page 19.
  3. Lunar eclipse in the HörDat audio game database .
  4. Seminar paper on lunar eclipse and The Visit of the Old Lady .
  5. Heinz Ludwig Arnold : Friedrich Dürrenmatt: The visit of the old lady. Materials. Klett, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-12-358100-4 , p. 4.
  6. ^ Friedrich Torberg in Neuer Kurier , quoted from the website of Diogenes Verlag .
  7. Manfred Brauneck (Ed.): World literature in the 20th century. Author Lexicon. Reinbek near Hamburg 1981, ISBN 3-499-16266-0 , Volume 2, p. 359.
  8. See Heinz Beckmann, After the game. Theater reviews 1950–1962 . Munich (1963), p. 150.
  9. Matzkowski, Bernd: King's Explanations Friedrich Dürrenmatt The Visit of the Old Lady, Bange Verlag, Hollfeld 2010, pp. 48–49
  10. ^ Dürrenmatt, epilogue, Zurich 1956.
  11. See KNLL, vol. 4, study edition, p. 926.
  12. ^ Anton Jungo: The old lady implements her own plans. In: Freiburger Nachrichten. December 9, 2016, accessed December 10, 2016 .
  13. Oliver Hüttmann: Theater, Theater. In: Spiegel Online . October 23, 2003.
  14. Michael Angele : It looks so cool, nobody can get to it. In: Friday . January 11, 2010.
  15. Previous edition: Edgar Neis (Ed.); additionally via Die Physiker . Row no. 295. Ibid. 1999, ISBN 3-8044-1670-5 .