a (Re) Play
In 1941 the German physicist Werner Heisenberg made a strange
clandestine trip to Copenhagen to see his Danish counterpart, Niels
Their work together on quantum mechanics and the uncertainty principle
had revolutionized atomic physics. But now the world had changed
and the two men were on opposite sides in a world war. Why Heisenberg
went to Copenhagen and what he wanted to say to Bohr are questions
that have vexed historians ever since.
Scientists and historians have argued ever since about why Heisenberg
went, and what the two men said.
"Copenhagen", a thought-provoking drama by Michael Frayn,
retraces their journey through the mysteries of the world around
us - and on into the even stranger mysteries of the world within.
The play reenacts the 1941 visit of Werner Heisenberg, who was
then in charge of the Nazi nuclear power program, to Niels Bohr,
his mentor, and collaborator in creating quantum mechanics, complementarity,
and the uncertainty principle, in German - occupied Denmark. The
third "long-winded" character is Bohr’s wife Margrethe.
In Michael Frayn’s ambitious, fiercely intelligent, and daring
new play Heisenberg and Bohr meet once again to discuss the intricacies
of physics and to ponder the metaphysical—the very essence of human
Frayn does not pretend to solve the mystery: he just replays in
many different ways (interpretations) what could have happened in
that meeting. Nobody alive actually knows what was said.
The same uncertainty that was proven by the two scientists to be
unavoidable in physics, pervades every aspect of this play.
We do know that something terrible happened between the two friends,
which all but destroyed their relationship for the rest of their
Speculation about the intent of Heisenberg’s call has been rife
among physicists and historians ever since the visit became known.
Did Heisenberg want to warn Bohr and through him the Allies that
the Germans were working on an atomic bomb and if so to what end?
Was it to convey the impression that he was about to succeed and
that the Allies should therefore make peace with Hitler, or was
it say that he had given up on an impossible task and that therefore
the other side shouldn’t try either?
Did Heisenberg want to find out whether the Allies were actually
working on an A - bomb?
Or did he hope to convince Bohr to issue a joint declaration with
him denouncing efforts to build a bomb and pledging not to work
The Play does not answer, but examines such questions, opening
the facts to all possible interpretations. The Tony Award—winning
play that soars at the intersection of science and art, Copenhagen
is just an explosive re-imagining of the mysterious wartime meeting
between the two Nobel laureates to discuss the atomic bomb.
From the Back Cover:
“Endlessly fascinating…. The most invigorating and ingenious play
of ideas in many a year…. An electrifying work of art.”–
Ben Brantley, The New York Times
“Superbly dramatized…. [Frayn] has an elegant, almost algebraic
way with the structure of a play…. Copenhagen offers a particular
kind of brain-teasing pleasure.”–
John Lahr, The New Yorker
by Michael Frayn
For most people, the principles of nuclear physics are not
only incomprehensible but inhuman. The popular image of the
men who made the bomb is of dispassionate intellects who number-crunched
their way towards a weapon whose devastating power they could
not even imagine. But in his Tony...