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Resources for Frayn's Copenhagen: Margrethe Bohr

The wife and complement of Niels Bohr, Margrethe Norlund Bohr was an integral part of his life and his work. In Act I of Copenhagen, Bohr says that he is "a mathematically curious entity: not one but half of two." He paradoxically half of his marriage, and half of his friendship and collaboration with Heisenberg. Although Margrethe was not present during the conversation between Bohr and Heisenberg, her being in the play is essential since the conversation in the play is akin to Nietzsche's eternal recurrence at the personal level, an exploration of the loss of their sons: Christian, Harald, and Werner. In the play, the characters are like ghosts who haunt those who caused and participated in their pain. Like analysands trapped in memory and trauma, they talk and talk without resolution.
Her role in the play is multi-dimensional. Reed Way Dasenbrock suggests that Margrethe's presence is a way of keeping the physics at the audience's level: two physicists left to themselves would talk like physicists, but the two men have to discuss physics in terms Margrethe (and the audience of the play) can understand. Matthais Dörries similarly suggests that Margrethe is like the chorus in Greek tragedy: she clarifies the conversation/action for the audience. But she also has a more traditionally female function in that she opens the emotional discussions about Heisenberg as the enemy, and her comments keep the men from sublimating jealousy and other negative emotions into disagreements about physics. The scientific is the personal, as the political is the personal. Observer and observed are intertwined in life as in science; the resulting observations are not simple data points. As a complement to her husband, she seems at times the contrary of Heisenberg. Frayn's sharp-tongued fictionalization of her appears at odds with the usual portrait of her as a stately woman who was also a mother to his students.

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