Der Besuch der alten Dame is perhaps Friedrich Dürrenmatts most successful play in terms of critical acclaim and box office success. Millionairess Clara Zachanassian is the old lady of the title who returns to her native village, nursing an ancient grudge against her former lover, Ill. She offers the people of Güllen a billion in return for his life. This is rejected by them, but gradually economic necessity takes over. People start buying new shoes when they could not afford them before. New buildings start to appear. Ill realises that he is doomed, and accepts this with dignity. Dürrenmatt makes good use of the stage effects available to him clichés of advertising, slapstick, burlesque comedy and, to close the play, a parody of Sophoclean chorus. Language is used with great skill to help produce alienation.
The book is reprinted in a new format as part of the Routledge Foreign Literature Classics series.