The Firebugs: A Learning-Play Without a Lesson
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
translated by Mordecai Gorelik; this is not the revised translation in 1990, but the first one put out by Hill and Wang under the Spotlight Dramabook imprint
The Fire Raisers (German: Biedermann und die Brandstifter), also known in English as The Firebugs, Firebugs, or The Arsonists, was written by Max Frisch in 1953, first as a radio play, then adapted for television and the stage (1958) as a play in six scenes. It was revised in 1960 to include an epilogue, or afterpiece.
This dark comedy is set in a town that is being regularly attacked by arsonists. Disguised as door-to-door salesmen (hawkers), they talk their way into people's homes and settle down in the attic, where they set about the destruction of the house. Written in the years following World War II, as a metaphor for Nazism and fascism, the play shows how "normal" citizens can be taken in by evil.
The central character, a businessman called Biedermann, is seen at the outset reading newspaper reports of arson, convinced that he could never be taken in. Within minutes, the first "hawker" has appeared (Schmitz), and through a combination of intimidation and persuasion he talks his way into spending the night in the attic. As the play unfolds, a second arsonist appears (Eisenring), and before Biedermann can do anything to stop it, his attic is piled high with oil drums full of petrol. He even helps them to measure the detonating fuse and gives them matches, refusing to believe the full horror of what is happening. He soon becomes an accomplice in his own downfall.
The action is observed by a Greek-style chorus of "firemen", and the increasingly surreal flavour culminates in a final scene, the afterpiece, where Biedermann and his wife Babette find themselves at the gates of Hell. Here they once again meet Schmitz and Eisenring who turn out to be Beelzebub and the Devil respectively, who, after becoming angered at the number of mass murderers being allowed to go to Heaven, refuses to conduct a Hell for a "small fry" like Biedermann.
The name Biedermann is itself a play on the German word "bieder" meaning conventional, conservative, worthy, upright and is frequently used in a pejorative or ironic context. Thus the name equates to der biedere Mann or the worthy man.
has broken into a sweat.] W hat's the trouble, Mr. Biedermann? You’ve gone quite pale. [He claps him on the shoulder.] It’s the smell. I know, if you're not used to it . . . I ’ll open the window for you, too. [He opens the door.] Biedermann. Thanks . . . [A nna calls up the stairs.] Anna's Voice. Mr. Biedermann! Mr. Biedermann! Eisenring. T he police again? It's a Police State! Anna's Voice. Mr. Biedermann-----Biedermann. I'm coming! [They both whisper from here on.] Mr. Eisenring, do you
wine. Biedermann. Silver! [He glares at the bucket , then at Anna .] D o we always use that, too? 59 60 MAX FRISCH Anna. W e ’re going to need it, Mr. Biedermann. Biedermann. Humanity, brotherhood— that’s what we need here! Away with that thing! And what are those, will you tell me? Anna. Napkins. Biedermann. Damask napkins! Anna. W e don’t have any others. napkins into the silver bucket.] [B ied erm an n shoves the Biedermann. There are whole nations, Anna, that live with out napkins! [B
M A N N ! Babette. Go ahead, ask him. He’s talking to you. Schmitz. D O S T T H O U H EA R M E? Biedermann. W h o are you? Schmitz. I AM T H E G H O ST O F — K N E C H T L IN G . [He throws the tablecloth over B i e d e r m a n n . B a b e t t e jumps up with a scream.] 78 MAX FRISCH Eisenring. Stop! [He pulls the tablecloth off B ied er m a n n .] Idiot! How could you do such a thing? Knechtling was buried today! Schmitz. T h a t’s why face in her hands.] I thought of him. [B a b e t t e
think we're fire bugs------ Biedermann [like a whipped dog]. No, no, I don’t think you are! You do me an injustice, gentlemen— I don’t think you're firebugs. . . . Eisenring. You swear you don't? Biedermann. No! No! No! I don't believe it! Schmitz. W h at do you think we are? Biedermann. You're my friends. . . . [They clap him on the shoulder and start to leave.] Eisenring. It's time to leave. Biedermann. Gentlemen, I swear to you by all that's holy------ Eisenring. By all that's holy?
Gaso line! [In the voice of a district attorney.] W h at is in those barrels? Eisenring. Gasoline! Biedermann. Never mind your jokes! I ’m asking you for the last time— what’s in those barrels? You know as well as I do— attics are no place for gasoline! [He runs his finger over one of the barrels.] If you don’t mind— just smell that for your selves! [He waves his finger under their noses.] Is that gasoline or isn’t it? [They sniff and exchange glances.] Eisenring. It is. Schmitz. It is. 36