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No one understands my trip to Copenhagen. Time and time again I’ve explained it. To Bohr himself, and Margrethe. To interrogators and intelligence officers, to journalists and historians. The more I’ve explained, the deeper the uncertainty has become. Well, I shall be happy to make one more attempt.
Along the way, Heisenberg and Bohr “draft” several versions of their 1941 exchange, arguing about the ramifications of each potential version of their meeting and the motives behind it. In most dramatic works where the characters are based on real people, there is a point at which the character deviates from the real person. Michael Frayn works to keep this distinction as small as possible. With that in mind, the character descriptions apply to both the representative characters as well as the physicists themselves.
The son of a university professor, Heisenberg grew up in an environment with an intense emphasis on academics, but was exposed to the destruction that World War I dealt to Germany at a rather young age. He married Elisabeth Schumacher, also the child of a professor, and they had seven children. During the Second World War, Heisenberg worked for Germany, researching atomic technology and heading their nuclear reactor program. 1885, making him 38 when Heisenberg first came to work with him. He married Margrethe Norlund in 1912 in Copenhagen and together they had six sons, two of whom died. Most of the world’s great theoretical physicists spent periods of their lives at Bohr’s Institute. Before the war, his research was instrumental in nuclear research, some of which led to the building of the bomb.
Sweden in 1943, just before an SS sweep which would have incriminated him through his Jewish heritage. He died in 1962 and was survived by his wife, Margrethe. She died in 1984, survived by several of her children. Her son Hans wrote, “My mother was the natural and indispensable centre. Father knew how much mother meant to him and never missed an opportunity to show his gratitude and love. Her opinions were his guidelines in daily affairs,” and this relationship shows in Michael Frayn’s dialogue.
David Rush explores a subgenre of theatre, a later hybrid form known as “drama,” which he describes as a piece which cannot be specifically categorised as a tragedy, but which he notes involves “serious people going about serious business in a serious way. It is most nearly a “drama,” but works in many ways as an expository piece in the manner it presents information to the audience. The construction of the plot is non-linear, seeing as it does not exist in time and space. Sometimes one character will not notice that there are other people in the space, and speak as if to no one. The world that Frayn presents is outside of our conceptions as audience members, simply by virtue of the fact that no one attending the play has ever died. So the world in which Copenhagen is based is somewhere between heaven and an atom. It can also be thought to exist “inside the heads” of the characters present.