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Andorra (play)

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Playwright  Max Frisch
3.5/5 Goodreads

Copyright date  1964, 1965
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Similar  The Fire Raisers, The Visit, The Physicists, Biography: A game, Nathan the Wise

Andorra is a play written by the Swiss dramatist Max Frisch in 1961. The original text came from a prose sketch Frisch had written in his diary titled Der andorranische Jude (The Andorran Jew). The Andorra in Frisch's play is fictional and not intended to be a representation of the real Andorra located between France and Spain. Frisch has stated that the title 'Andorra' had only been intended as a working title but later liked using the term 'Andorrans' so much he kept it.


In Germany Andorra remains one of the best known of Frisch's plays.


The story revolves around a young boy, Andri, who is brought up as the Jewish adoptive son of the town's Teacher, who claims to have rescued him as a child from the neighbouring, anti-semitic "Blacks" (implying Blackshirts). However, it is revealed during the first half of the play that the story of Andri's origin is a lie: he is the illegitimate child of the Teacher and the Señora, a lady from the Blacks, and Andri is not a Jew.

When the play starts, Andri is engaged to the Teacher's daughter Barblin, with whom he has grown up, and who (unbeknownst to him) is his half-sister. While the Teacher tries to ensure they do not marry, Andri becomes the center of anti-semitism first from his fellow town members and later from invading Black forces. When the Teacher finally reveals the truth, the townspeople do not accept it, and permit Andri to be killed. At the end, Andri identifies with the Jews and defiantly welcomes his fate.

Apart from Andri and Barblin, the characters in Andorra are not named, but are instead identified by their occupations: the Teacher, the Priest, the Soldier, etc. After seven of the twelve scenes, individual members of the community come forth to a witness box and talk about Andri's death in the past tense, foreshadowing the play's tragic ending. Each townsperson attempts to rationalize their involvement in Andri's death (which they consider in hindsight unwarranted since he wasn't born a Jew). Only the Priest is ashamed of his actions and makes no excuses, aware that he of all people should not have stereotyped Andri, interpreting it as a breach of the second commandment, "Thou shalt not make an image." The Soldier's rationale, "I was only following orders", comes from the period of denazification when many ex-Nazi soldiers were forced to defend their anti-semitism after the fact. The Teacher and Barblin do not come to the witness box: the Teacher commits suicide and Barblin goes mad.

Dramatic techniques

Andorra is an example of epic theatre (as opposed to classical theatre), which was popularised by Bertolt Brecht in the early 20th century. Epic theatre aims to activate the audience into thinking about the important questions and ideas within the play so that he or she can form their own rational opinion for themselves after having been an active, critical observer.

Frisch uses the Verfremdungseffekt (distancing effect) throughout the play, with the aim of distancing the audience from the action so that they can think about the themes of the play rather than getting immersed in the plot. Frisch uses these techniques, as he wanted to create a dramatic situation where a character is mistaken for a Jew when he really wasn't one. All the characters and events are subservient to this central idea.

Verfremdungseffekt in Andorra

  • Most characters (with the exceptions of Andri, Barblin and perhaps The Teacher) are one-dimensional stereotypes devoid of most personality traits, since they are only there to further the plot (for instance The Landlord, who throws the stone that kills the Senora), or to demonstrate examples of prejudice (for example The Carpenter forces Andri to work with money).
  • Their personality is otherwise completely irrelevant to the plot, and it would only divert the audience's attention from what is important if these characters had a personality.

  • Most characters do not even have a name and are instead just portrayed as representatives of a job (e.g. The Landlord). Only certain traits are displayed; those that are relevant to the theme of the plot, such as the narrow-mindedness of The Doctor.
  • Andorra is not divided up into scenes, as in classical theatre, rather in twelve Bilder ("pictures") of variable length and structure.
  • Between the pictures are Vordergrundszenen (foreground scenes), where one character stands in a so-called "witness box" and makes a so-called "confession" to an imaginary court (though all apart from The Priest claim to be innocent). These scenes break up the action and the tension, thereby giving the audience time to reflect.
  • Tension in the play is dissipated since the two biggest shocks are given away right at the beginning - The Landlord says in his "confession" that Andri is really The Teacher's son, and it is repeatedly made clear that something bad happens to Andri.
  • Themes

    The play—written fifteen years after the end of World War II—is more of a study of cultural prejudice than a specific reflection on the war. However, it concerns more than just prejudice: many of the characters have something to gain from Andri's being a Jew: the Teacher has been able to present himself as a Good Samaritan, the Soldier can get Barblin, the Carpenter can make money; even the Priest can demonstrate his Christian sympathy for the outsider. The motif of whitewashing, with which the play starts and ends, points to hypocrisy as a central theme.

    Another recurring theme is people's shoes, and how they represent the roles assigned to their wearers. This idea is likely to have been inspired by the phrase "to put oneself in someone else's shoes", which exists in German as in English. In the beginning and the end Andri's shoes are left behind at the scene, leading to someone asking not to touch them until he came back.


    Andorra (play) Wikipedia