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LUIGI PIRANDELLO
Published by Brian on 2008/8/2 (2325 reads)
LUIGI PIRANDELLO
Luigi Pirandello's personal life, like Strindberg's, was calamitous and its results are directly reflected in his plays which are know for their radical questioning of the realistic mimesis of drama since Ibsen. As with Strindberg's experimental plays, they test the audience's willingness to believe in the presented action.
Their originality springs from Pirandello's response to events in his life. One critic has said of Pirandello:

"(His) attitude to life was one of fear - fear of others, fear of himself and his own hard-to-control emotionality, fear of the demands made by society and fear of isolation, fear of the bewildered emptiness of a mind that has come to know the fragility of all accepted norms and categories."
Pirandello's orientation to himself and the world was one of extreme alienation and his dramatic art is a kind of quarrel, or counter-discourse, to the world's account of itself.

Drama is not about uniquely original dramatists only. But the ‘original dramatist’ is the one who most tests the limits of drama, challenges its tolerance of unusual or alarming forms and subject-matter and tests its ability to respond to important changes in the world outside theater. George Bernard Shaw, to find a place for his radical critique of conventional idea of reality, took up the metaphors of conventional drama and then twisted them to show how inadequate they were to accommodate the new realities. Much of his comedy depended on the incongruity between conventional form and radical subject.
Pirandello was a more radical artist because he went beyond Shaw’s belief that the old theater and its metaphors are just errors that can be replaced by a more adequate picture of reality. He created a new dramatic form: a new set of dramatic metaphors. His plays dramatize the impossibility of creating an adequate picture of reality.

Luigi Pirandello was born in Sicily in 1867 in Agrigento: then a very backward and tradition-bound society of vendettas, duels, the Mafia. His father was a local strongman, given to violent rages, who fought several duels and even quarreled with the Mafia – and survived.

Pirandello recounted it was not possible to talk with his father, who would maintain complete silence for many months. Pirandello, therefore, became an introspective, studious and gentle youngster, who would write stories and attempts at plays as a retreat from the alarming world around him.

Sicilian life was very different from the brooding world of Ibsen's Norway: it was violent, given to abrupt changes, highly articulate on the surface - all qualities of Pirandello's dramatic method which has none of the notation of subjectivity we find in Ibsen's or Chekhov’s stage directions. It is closer to the method of August Strindberg and the German Expressionists.

Here is a typical Pirandello stage direction: (224-225)

At this point the LEADING LADY, who is biting her lips with rage at seeing the LEADING MAN flirting with the STEP- DAUGHTER comes forward and says to the MANAGER........

Though the scene direction supplies the motive ‘RAGE’ for the direction, this is entirely from reading the external sign and not from any claim for subjective complexity or ambiguous motive– in the character – as in, for example, the scene directions describing Hedda Gabler: ("with a barely perceptible smile," “lost in thought,” etc.)

A reason for this is that Pirandello denies one can know the subjective realities of people, including dramatic characters: one has visible 'signs' to interpret, like the Leading Lady biting her lips, or sounds like the Step-daughter's loud laughter, but any 'interpretation' of these can only be conjecture. Pirandello does conjecture as to the motives of the Leading Lady, of course, but this is based on something observed, on the surface, a visible sign and not from a claim to know the woman's subjectivity.

Pirandello's dramatic art is one of signs that contradict and quarrel with one another, like the Father and the Step-daughter's interpretation of what went on at Madame Pace's. The Pirandello dramatic action seems to go round in endless circles, and usually comes to an abrupt ending with no resolution. Not with an opened up situation, as with the end of Ghosts or THE MASTER BUILDER, but more like the Jean Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos (No Exit) The nightmarish conclusions of plays like IT IS SO IF YOU THINK SO or SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR or HENRY IV is that the situation will be repeated endlessly with no hope of coming to a conclusion.

Pirandellos’s plays present a contest of ideas of reality, not just competing but contradicting each other. This, of course, was the theme, also, of Ibsen, and of Strindberg: but there is a difference. In Ibsen, there is a contest between ‘depth’ and ‘surface’. In THE MASTER BUILDER it is less a matter of which is true, Hilda’s version of both past and present or Solness’s: than it is a question which fiction is more adequate to the needs of the spirit. Because knowing reality at all is itself problematic and subject to endless interrogation, Ibsen’s dramatic action no longer can enact a good faith narrative sequence in present time from beginning to end before our eyes (e..g. from King Lear dividing his kingdom in Act I until his death in Act V.) Instead, he creates a retrospective, analytical dramatic method where the reality presented is of past events already completed and now revisited as problematic, doubtful, open to question; Instead of being a ‘given’, past events create an existential enigma needing to be validated by a critical present consciousness. It has to compete for existence. with rival and contradictory versions of reality.
Pirandello takes this process further.

His plays resemble a Cubist art allowing contradictory dimensions to occupy the same one-dimensional space: (e.g. profile and full face are the same image: all 3-dimensional surfaces of a cube are shown simultaneously as the same surface. ). Pirandello. employs a dramatic method in which there is no way of resolving contradictory versions of reality (past or present): not only no way of deciding which is truer or even, as with Ibsen, which is preferable. Contradictory versions intersect and clash, occupy the same narrative but, unlike the Solness-Hilda contest, there can be no ‘synthesis’ because the one version annihilates the other. All are equally valid and invalid. “It is so – (if you think so)”! There can be no way ‘forward’ or even ‘out’ of this. Each character is hermetically sealed in his or her exclusive reality.

A major theme of Pirandello's is that people ultimately are unknowable, each closed in his or her own solipsist universe which is unlike anyone else's, and even unlike the same person’s at a previous time. Because our past self is different from our present one, we cannot know that past self. To try to 'fix' identity is to attach a fiction to a character. In THE SIX CHARACTERS, the Father protests at the Stepdaughter's attempt to characterize him for all time by the one moment in Mme. Pace's brothel. This is how Dante, for instance, portrays the damned in the INFERNO: as fixed for eternity in terms of the identity of one major sin. Paolo and Francesca are allowed no other identity than that of transgressive lovers; Ugolino no other identity than the murderer who locked a father and his sons in a tower, forcing them to cannibalism. As the figure of Dante moves through Hell, accompanied by Virgil, so he contemplates multitudes of such personified sins each condemned for ever to unchanging and endless repetition of the sinful act that damns them. In Dante's case, this follows from the unyielding and infallible divine punishment that ultimately makes sense of suffering and evil. Pirandello must have known of Dante’s poem.

But, though Pirandello's characters are similarly situated with Dante’s, each identity trapped in its inalterable circumstance, Pirandello rejects the possibility of any confident judgment upon others. He believes the basis for such knowledge has dissolved. It is as if, in THE INFERNO, each of the damned started to contradict Virgil’s account of them and offer totally opposite accounts or justifications - leaving Dante, and the reader unable to judge who is right.

Much of this was due to Pirandello’s unhappy life. Not only could he not communicate to, and thus know, his father: this situation was even more disastrously repeated in his marriage. His wife, Antonietta,, also was a victim of the same rigid Sicilian upbringing. Her father, writes Renate Matthaei, " was [someone] given to pathological attacks of jealousy, who locked all windows, allowed no-one to enter the house and demanded his daughter cross the street with bowed head and lowered eyes." The unpromising marriage was arranged by the two fathers, who were business associates, and it soon developed into a disaster. His wife, Antonietta, followed in her father's tradition of becoming insanely jealous, accusing Pirandello of infidelities, lying in wait for him, watching his every move, checking on what he spent and what he said.

Antonietta lived totally in her own world of jealous fantasy and therefore inhabited a different world from her husband. She accused him of things he did not know anything about while she was drifting further and further into insanity. The loss of both their families’ fortunes in a sulfur-mine disaster was the event that finally tipped Antonietta over into madness. When she heard the news she collapsed, was paralyzed and soon became completely mad. Pirandello, for years, had to live with her, that is, live with someone who inhabited a different world from himself: a world he could not enter any more than she could enter his. (It is an extreme version of the Solness and Aline situation in THE MASTER BUILDER. Pirandello realized that her world was as real to her as his was to himself: that it was consistent and irrefutable on its own terms. This is a situation Pirandello deals with in his three major plays.

His first two plays were performed in 1910 when he was 43, and his first successes, THINK GIACOMINO! and LIOLA in 1916 when he was 49. He wrote plays with astonishing speed - twenty eight in eight years, His best plays took him only a few weeks. He took part in the movement in theater, then fashionable in Europe, of breaking with the old realistic and naturalistic conventions, often going back to the commedia del'arte traditions of stock characters and situations.

His first major play is IT IS SO IF YOU THINK SO (1917) - the first play in which what we recognize as the Pirandellian themes are set out. With the success of this play and the financial independence it gave him, he managed to get his wife into a sanatorium in 1919 and this freed him to embark on the major part of his career. SIX CHARACTERS was first performed in 1921, where it failed, but then soon after in Milan where it became a major success; and HENRY IV in 1922. All Pirandello's major plays were tremendous successes in Europe and America and Pirandello became Italy's most famous contemporary writer. He started his own theater company in 1925, and took it on a world wide tour. He directed his own, and other, plays and would go through the various parts of his plays to aid the actors. He was reputed to be a brilliant and natural actor himself, though he never publicly performed.

At this time, it was recognized that Pirandello was a national asset and Mussolini took notice of him. Pirandello joined the Fascist party in 1924 and remained a lifelong member. Mussolini asked Pirandello to submit plans for a national theater, Adolf Hitler attended a German premiere of one his plays in 1934, and Pirandello received the Nobel Prize for Literature the same year.

Pirandello's voluntary and enthusiastic Fascism disturbed many of his admirers. He supported Italy's genocidal invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and, when reproached by dismayed American admirers, he reminded the critics of what they had done to the native Americans, insisting Italy was doing no worse to the Abyssinians. He asked that his Nobel Prize medal be melted down for bullets towards helping the Italian war effort.

Pirandello's fascism, though not endearing, is not surprising. He desperately sought order to control the chaos of his own life. This fitted in with the general mood of the time, especially after the chaos caused by the Great Depression. His sense of the total relativity of all reality could lead him to think that if it seemed to work, fascism was as acceptable a pattern for reality to take as any other. It is so if you think so. The thing is not to look for the Truth (which is an illusion), but for the most adequate fiction to live by. Therefore, he willingly became an emissary abroad for Mussolini's programs. And Mussolini was grateful because Pirandello's prestige gave fascism some needed intellectual legitimacy, similar to Martin Heidegger’s endorsement of Nazism in Germany. He died in 1936 before he saw the full disaster of fascism for his country.

However. Pirandello never allowed his art to preach politics In this he was unlike Bertolt Brecht on the left or Leni Riefenstahl on the right, who made her art (e.g. THE TRIUMPH OF THE WILL) propaganda for Hitler. He was one of a generation of intellectuals in Europe who were fatally seduced by the attractions of nationalism and strongman worship but who kept their art clea of polemic. In England, D.H. Lawrence, W.B. Yeats, Bernard Shaw, T.S. Eliot all reacted to the social chaos by at least temporarily flirting with fascism. The great American poet, Ezra Pound gave full-throated allegiance to Fascism and was tried for treason. This was the age of secular faiths and there were few artists able to live without some external cause to give allegiance to and let the world go on its way as a sinking ship.

Pirandello vs. Brecht
Beginning with George Bernard Shaw, we come to the direct involvement of art and politics, especially with the theater of Bertolt Brecht. Pirandello's profound sense that reality was unfathomable denied that society's injustices and conflicts could be known and corrected by shared, that is communally agreed action. Shaw's confidence in the rationality of his public, which could be argued into enlightenment, was totally shaken by the events of the First World War. For many at that time Pirandello's intellectual nihilism, was closer to their experience of social chaos. The anti-intellectual, ‘instinctual’ politics of fascism that imposed order on this chaos - without claiming scientific endorsement like Marxism - became attractive to many leading intellectuals of the time.

Pirandello did not create his art as a fascist instrument, but his way of looking at life, happened to fit the widespread mood of despair and frustration that fascism fed on. Pirandello's art has sufficient integrity to survive his party allegiance. It is an authentic, not a propagandist art.

In Italy many of Pirandello's plays are performed, and he also is well known as a novelist and short story writer; but outside Italy it is usually the "big three" plays by which he is known..

IT IS SO IF YOU THINK SO
Pirandello's reputation as a modern dramatist, one who had done something to change the form of modern drama, was established in 1919 by IT IS SO IF YOU THINK SO, where Pirandello creates his own paradoxical account of the impossibility of objective knowledge. The play, really, is a joke against the theater audience.
The plot revolves round a family newly arrived in a small and gossipy town. I quote from Matthaei: (p. 43)
In the parlor of provincial councilor Agazzi, people are discussing the ‘case’ of a family of three that has recently moved into this town after their own village had been destroyed kby an earthquake. The behavior of the family is puzzling. They make no visits, live only by themselves. But they do no live together. Signor Ponza, secretary at the prefecture, and his wife, who never shows herself in public, have taken up residence in a suburban apartment. Ponza’s mother-in-law, Signora Frola, has settled in the center of the town. Signora Frola, for some reason, cannot live with her daughter or even visit her in her apartment. Two or three times a day she can be seen standing in the courtyard of the Ponza apartment. The daughter then appears on the balcony and sends leteters down to the old women in a basket that hangs by a long rope from the railings.
The inhabitants of this small Italian town would like to know what lies behind all this. One after another they summon Signora Frola, Signor Ponza and finally Signora Ponza, and subject them to interrogation. But each time the story becomes more incomprehensible, crazier, and even more mysterious. Signora Frola explains, by way of excuse, that her son-in-law loves his wife with such passion that he permits no-one, not even his wife’s own mother, to penetrate this world of ‘love’. His wife, he says, is not her daughter at all; she is his second wife. His first wife, Signora Frola’s daughter, had died four years ago. Finally Signora Ponza throws light on this maze of contradictions. At the prefect’s request she is brought into the Agazzi house and there reveals one truth. She is both Signora Frola’s daughter and the second wife of Signor Ponza. But for herself she is no-one. For others she is “whoever they take her to be.”


The whole action of the play has been a suspenseful and frantic pursuit of certainty, of a single explanation - a pursuit after what Pirandello believes cannot be found, and so the final explanation of Signora Ponza is an impossible paradox:

The joke is it is the theater audience, too, that wants to know the truth, wants to pry into the affairs of the family, making that family suffer by disclosing what they wish to keep private. We, in the audience, become collaborators with the inquisitive crowd, and we are reproached by Pirandello's mouthpiece, Laudisi in the final line of the play. Our pursuit of a single explanation has all but destroyed the equilibrium of the family and its strange compromises: it, the family, has been able to live reconciling complete contradictions: Signora Ponza emerges as one who has a capacity for infinite self-abnegation from some mysterious capacity to be for others, for her husband and mother, what they need of her, and for the inquisitive crowd -- whichever of the two irreconcilable identities they wish to choose

The implications of the play are very close to those of one strand of THE WILD DUCK - the Dr. Relling’s argument that life would be all right if meddlers like Gregers Werle did not come and disturb it with the destructive pursuit of truth. This is not Ibsen's meaning, but it is Pirandello's whose stand vis-a-vis society in general is identical with Relling's: that people need pipe-dreams, not truth and that the hunger for truth is not only an illusion, but a destructive one.. One might see a correspondence between Relling's cynical philosophy of "life-lies" which actually is in service on behalf of the powerful merchant Werle, and Pirandello's relation to Mussolini. The other strand of THE WILD DUCK, that of Gregers Werle, (and again not representing Ibsen's view) might be seen in the 'reformist' theaters of Shaw and Brecht.

Pirandello greatly admired Ibsen. He wrote, "After Shakespeare, I unhesitatingly put Ibsen first" but his dramatic strategy is almost the opposite of Ibsen’s. In an Ibsen play, we, the audience, do engage in the analytical pursuit if not 'truth' then at least a more adequate fiction inhabit. In GHOSTS, for example, there are clearly perceived stages of an evolution from the inadequacy of Pastor Manders world-view to the ‘higher inadequacy’ of Mrs. Alving's. In LITTLE EYOLF there is evolution of consciousness from the lack of self-knowledge and knowledge of the world of Allmers and Rita in Act I, to their chastened perception of the cosmos they inhabit at the end of Act III. The pattern of action that emerges in the play seems to raise up, as in a séance, aspects of our larger humanity, to have filled the metaphoric space of the stage more adequately than at the beginning. We may not know, at the close of the play, quite where to go next, but we know it is not backwards to the consciousness of Act One.

The Pirandello action, by contrast, is endlessly circular as we go round and round the same paradoxes with no possibility of exiting.. At the end of IT IS SO IF YOU THINK SO we are back precisely where we started, and the same is so both for SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR and HENRY IV. HENRY IV, for example, opens with a medieval tableau of a monarch surrounded by his courtiers. Some elements don’t look right: the paintings on the wall are not in a medieval style; one of the courtiers is smoking a cigarette; another asks which Henry the Fourth are they serving; and soon the whole scene unravels. Later, a group appears at 'Henry's 'court' to cure him of his insanity, for this modern Italian believes he is the medieval Henry IV. But we find out Henry is not mad and the intruders discover this. 'Henry", however, kills a rival and, to protect himself from punishment, must once again play the role of the madman who thinks he is Henry IV, re-assembling his court. We are back where we started.
After giving an account of the story the six characters want to tell, Eric Bentley observes:
“I am trying to tell the story of Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore,(Six Characters in Search Of An Author) or rather the story of the six characters in the play. This is quite hard. The first reason is pretty much what it would be with an Ibsen play. It is hard to tell the story of, say Ghosts because it comes out in fragments, and the fragments have to be painstakingly fitted together. The Ibsenite has, above all, to be able to take a hint; he even has to have the detective's knack of snapping up bits of evidence and holding them in reserve till he can connect them with something else. However, while Ibsen's fragments come together into a complete and coherent picture, like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle, Pirandello defies a number of normal expectations and, by the usual criteria is incomplete.”
It is incomplete, first because Pirandello does not believe an account can be offered that would be mutually coherent to any two or more people. Pirandello makes non-communication the whole action of the drama, which, before our eyes, is nothing more than the characters inability to communicate their experiences either to each other or to the actors. [Unlike Ibsen, Pirandello does not occupy a metaphysical space from which to reshape the perplexities and chaos of experience into an alternative, knowable art. He is writing from within the perplexities and never gets free of them.

Though Strindberg presents us with conflicting and contradictory facts and evidence from his characters, he does not give up on the possibility of understanding reality: there is, for the audience, a transcendental height, in Act III THEGHOST SONATA from which, it is at least hoped, the human suffering and confusions of the first two Acts can be better comprehended - and this is suggested, also, in Part Two of THE DANCE OF DEATH.
Pirandello does not allow US to feel we understand what we are observing, any more than the characters onstage do. In the normal realistic method, we do not really doubt, for example, that Chekhov’s three sisters once lived in Moscow, were happy there, and use Moscow as a metaphor for all they twill not attain in life. Or that there is an auction offstage at which the Cherry Orchard is sold off to Lopakhin. Even in THE MASTER BUILDER and THE DANCE OF DEATH we are meant to believe there is a ground of truth to the claims the characters make – though THE MASTER BUILDER does come close to the Pirandellian situation, if we substitute Hilda and Solness for the Daughter and Father in SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR.

The very fact that the SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR. openly claim to be fictional creations, that their author lost interest in them, means we can never know what their author had in mind for them or what their story would have been if it had been completed. And the characters themselves don’t help to clear the matter up. Pirandello's stage directions for the end of SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR is that after the deaths of the little girl and the boy, the shadowy figures of the other characters appear, enlarged, on the backcloth of the theater, while we hear the stepdaughter run off laughing loudly. Presumably they will all gather again ready to enter another theater again and interrupt another rehearsal with their impossible demand to see their story made in objective FORM. Which means the dead boy and girl will have to come to ‘life’ again, and again throughout eternity.

The Two Plots of SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR:

Plot No. 1. The story of the family. This is an unfinished fiction in the mind of the author. We do not know in what sequence it was supposed to have unfolded, but the chronological sequence of events is as follows:
The father married a very simple woman with whom he quickly became bored. She had a son by him. Later, a simple and mild-mannered man became the Father's secretary and struck up an affinity with the father's wife. Because this was very convenient, the father allowed his wife and his secretary to live together where they start up an illegitimate family: the stepdaughter, brother and sister.
Meanwhile, the Father takes over his own son, and sends him away to a peasant woman to be brought up in the country Later, the father feels an interest in the new family of the secretary, and secretly observes them - especially the stepdaughter, a little girl . The girl's real father finds this attention intolerable and removes his family to another town.
Years later, the secretary dies and the mother and her children now are reduced to poverty, sleeping in one room. They return to their original town. The mother gets work as a seamstress, but her employer, Mme. Pace, is more interested in her daughter, now in her late teens. She employs the girl as a prostitute, for the seamstress' shop actually is a brothel.
It is here that the father, a regular client of the brothel, encounters his stepdaughter in Mme. Pace's brothel and is about to sleep with her when the mother rushes in to the room crying out "stop, that is your daughter". After this shock the mother brings this bastard family into the father's house where he is living with his legitimate son. The Son resents the intruders and it seems this resentment precipitates the tragedy whereby the little girl aged 4., drowns herself and her brother shoots himself after watching the drowning and not offering any help.
The mother, who should have been looking after her family was, instead, following her son, begging for forgiveness. He rushes out in to the garden to get away from her, just in time to witness the 14 year old boy shoot himself. At this moment the stepdaughter runs away from home, leaving the Father, Mother and Son as the Original Family once more.
This is the unfinished story an author dreamed into being and then abandoned, and which the characters want to see brought to life on the stage. This story is both very peculiar and very melodramatic – if told straightforwardly from start to finish. It seems to be a 'displaced' incest plot, the whole second family seeming a kind of subterfuge for what really is the father's own family.
At the same time it seems in an odd way the destruction of the second family in order to restore
the original one; for the Father Mother and Son are all who remain at the end.

But the story is not told from start to finish, for all we will see enacted are the two highpoints:
(a) the meeting in Mme. Pace's
(b) the deaths in the garden.
These two highpoints are what the characters vainly try to get clear to themselves and which the actors vainly try to realize on stage.

Plot No. 2. This is the story of how a rehearsal of a Pirandello play is interrupted by the intrusion of six characters (seven with Mme. Pace. This interrupted play is "the play in the making" referred to in subtitle. In this second plot the story is of the incompatibility of the Characters and their story with the whole nature of theatrical 'showing'.
The title of the play seems inaccurate. Do six characters want an author to realize their fictional destinies? Actually only one - at most two - are in search of an author).
The two children certainly don’t want to relive their suffering, and the Son and the Mother are dragged along reluctantly.
The Father, especially wants the story enacted in order to exonerate himself, in order to be
'cleared' from the stepdaughter's determination to judge him and fix him for eternity according to one shameful episode. The Stepdaughter wants it re-enacted to indict him, as in a court of law.
They also claim to want their fates realized in order to 'live' - to leave the limbo of half-existence

Now, Plot No. 1., instead of being told in chronological sequence, is broken up, refracted, in the crazy mirror of Plot No. 2. That is, the story is tested, revealed, distorted, falsified through the attempts of the Father and Daughter to get the stage to represent their experience and the attempts of the 'actors' to render that experience in the alien terms of theatrical entertainment.

9. TWO BAD PLOTS = ONE GOOD PLAY!
What is odd is that both stories would make bad theater if separated, but become good theater when combined . The melodramatic story (Plot No. 1) is all emotion and no intellect. It could never have succeeded with an intelligent audience and the situation is banal, and trite and “worked up” too melodramatically.
The second story, Plot No. 2. is all intellect and no emotion. By itself, it is a tedious series of arguments with the Manager mostly by the Father on the difference between illusion and reality and theatrical representation and actual reality.
It’s when the two are combined, with the passionate Stepdaughter in conflict with the rational Father, trying to present raw emotion through the controlled medium of theater, that the play is extremely interesting. The doubts raised by the intellectual plot prevent the emotional plot from getting presented.
Instead of being just 'unplayable', story No., 1. becomes unknowable; each character (or at least the four principle characters: Father, Mother, Son Stepdaughter) making a different claim as to what happened - or the significance of what happened.

The melodramatic plot of story No., 1 and the 'absurdist' plot of story No. 2. - each by itself is inadequate and tiresome but becomes something much more interesting in their interaction.
The characters bring into question:
a. The possibility of any two people ever engaging in the same experience (each approaches the event from a different perspective, sees and experiences a different event);
b. The possibility of theater ever being able to reproduce the 'reality' - whatever that is, - that is to be 'handed over ' to the theater -. If the two people who experienced the event cannot agree what it was, how can the actors, who didn’t experience it and only hear contradictory accounts, even hope to ‘embody’ the event?
c. Thus two semiotic systems, of individual experience and of the theater, each filled with contradictions, collide. Individual experience cannot be shared with even one other person, let alone a theater audience. The art of theater, if it tries to be faithful to reality, cannot be faithful to theater, and if it is faithful to theatrical art it cannot be faithful to reality.

SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR dramatizes the impossibility of enacting its story. The characters endlessly debate the many aspects of this dilemma and it is this interplay between the desires of the characters to see their experience rendered, and the inescapable limitations imposed by theatrical art, that makes the drama.

Another odd, and magical thing, is that as the play progresses, the theater itself gradually comes into being..
Act One is a bare rehearsal Stage.
Act Two brings on the few props of MADAM PACE’S brothel. Here takes place the eerie appearance of the Madam, summoned by the stage props.
Act Three presents us with a full sets, lighting, etc., the full theatre assembles for the climax to the melodramatic story and the puzzle left unsolved of the intellectual story.


This is not the first drama to use the device of the play within the play, or even the theater within a play. The theme is as old as Aristophanes' (The Frogs and The Thesmophoriazusae) and we find it again in The Taming of the Shrew, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, in Spanish drama El gran teatro del mundo, in Villiers The Rehearsal and Sheridan's The Critic (and Hnery Fielding’s Tom Thumb) and in the German Romantic fantasist, Ludvig Tieck, in Puss In Boots and The World Turned Upside Down.
Pirandello read Tieck's work and had been influenced by it.

Pirandello's is the most radical in terms of destroying faith in realistic mimesis. (Of course, this only holds if you believe playwrights want to put "real life" on the stage and that realist mimesis has the ambition to be absolutely faithful to lived experience. If, in fact, you believe the best realist theater is metaphoric, that it creates symbolic meaning, not imitation of everyday experience, much of the argument of the father and stepdaughter about how the actors are not being true to their actual experience becomes a little tedious. The actual arguments are the least valuable thing about the play: it is the brilliant metaphor Pirandello has created that makes the play so interesting as theatrical experience. In fact, the play’s argument is impossibly paradoxical: the audience is faced with two groups of actors, one group claiming to be fictitious ‘characters’, the other group claiming to be ‘real’ actors interrupted from rehearsing another play. The supposedly fictitious group of actors complains that the supposedly real group of actors fails to enact the truth of its reality – and both groups are acting a well-rehearsed fiction devised by Piraandello. Like an Escher drawing, the play turns in upon itself in endless interlocking self-canceling gyrations.
Life, the play says, in all its fluidity and diversity is without form: even to try to formulate what an experience was, to remember it is to distort and falsify it. The Father and the Stepdaughter each
(a) tries to recreate the experience in Mme. Pace's in terms of their mutually contradictory memories
(b) wants to see it relived as reproduced by actors in terms of dramatic art.

When the Stepdaughter wants to use the scene in the brothel to condemn the Father, she is trying to transfix him for ever, like Dante's damned, on one deed, and the Father protests:

“we have this illusion of being one person for all, of having a personality that is unique
in all our acts. But it isn’t true. We perceive this when, tragically perhaps, in something
we do, we are as it were, suspended, caught up in the air on a kind of hook. Then we
perceive that all of us was not in that act, and that it would be an atrocious injustice to
judge us by that action alone, as if all our existence were summed up in that one deed.
Now do you understand the perfidy of this girl? She surprised me in a place, where
she ought not to have known me, just as I did not exist for her, and now she seeks to attach
me to a reality such as I could never suppose I should have to assume for her in a shameful
and fleeting moment of my life....”

The father protests that the whole fluidity and complexity of life, which it is impossible to convey, should not be rendered in such a simplistic judgment as his stepdaughter's: he further protests when the Leading Man tries to recreate his experience in terms of theatric art. Both interpretations, his stepdaughter's and the mimetic, alienate the father from his experience by drastically simplifying it: he cannot recognize himself in either.

The actors of the theater, however, necessarily create for the audience's experience, a mimetic art that must be unlike the arbitrary fluidity of life: they have to impose conventions to control what they are communicating. In real life, when one goes through one’s most intense emotions, one rarely shows this to others. In the theater you cannot convey an inner emotion except artificial signs by which an audience identifies an emotion – like the stage direction of the Leading Lady biting her lip- - and these are not the signs you make when experiencing. Furthermore, to play someone other than yourself means you can’t be ‘yourself’ in the dramatized character and situation. Both of which suggests a fallacy in much ‘method acting’ training. Nothing in your experience equips you to play Antony or Cleopatra because you cannot be either Antony or Cleopatra. You have to construct the fictional character through visible theatrical clues for the audience to grasp and these are not ‘like life’. .Shakespeare knew that in life one can smile and smile and be a villain and that there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.
The fact that an actor can be self-convinced s/he is going through an emotion tells the audience nothing. What the audience needs are conventional signs which are identified with specific meanings: a sign system such as Greek, Japanese, Elizabethan, neoclassical and even Romantic drama operated. Inexpressive emotion such as life is filled with is no emotion at all in the theater. In fact, Pirandello's own theater company used a very broad, comedic style of acting, deriving from the commedia dell'arte tradition.

When the actors try to enact the situation in the brothel, both the Stepdaughter and the Father object: yet Pirandello makes clear that there is nothing wrong with the actors:

The door at the rear of the stage opens and the Leading Man enters with the lively manner of an old gallant. The rendering of the scene by the Actors from the very first words is seen to be quite a different thing [from the scene presented by Father and Stepdaughter] though it has not in any way the air of parody. Naturally, the Stepdaughter and the Father, not being able to recognize themselves in the Leading Lady and leading Man, who deliver their words in different tones and with a different psychology.......

The Stepdaughter and Father protest and ridicule the actors, not realizing that even Realist theatre depends on a set of artificial conventions (of ‘pointed’ words and gestures) in order to be understood by an audience. When you look at real-life events it is impossible to know what’s going on (e.g. the different versions of the same street accident).

The play demonstrates of the impossibility of theater ever to be faithful to lived experience: and there is no reason why it should try to in the first place. The complaint that a play’s action is 'melodramatic' is probably a complaint that it is dramatic. The stage is not supposed to be a window opening onto the street outside, but a place of highly shaped, histrionic actions.

Pirandello’s paradoxical plot that fictional characters are frustrated in getting their story told permits Pirandello to do some theatrically magical things, like the first appearance of the characters in the theater in eerie light, or the summoning of Mme. Pace onto the stage. Pirandello recounts how this idea gradually came to haunt him: how the characters would appear dimly before him in the twilight, beckoning, pleading that he write their story and how at last he decided to dramatize their predicament.

In Pirandello’s specification they are to appear onstage masked, a directive hardly ever followed in productions; and were to seem to be of a different world from the actors playing actors. The audience, we noted, is just faced with two sets of actors, one calling themselves actors, the others, ‘characters’. In performances the actors playing the principal Characters are likely to be better actors than those playing the Actors (and better known by the audience, which makes the performance even more remote from 'reality'). In Germany, the director Reinhardt made the 'Manager' (or 'Director') the chief character, but Pirandello's company made him a subordinate figure, and emphasized the Father and Stepdaughter.
The play performs better than it ‘reads’ - as ‘the paradox of performance’ is what it is all about.
SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR dramatizes the impossibility of telling its story. The characters endlessly debate the many aspects of this dilemma and it is this interplay between the desires of the characters to see their experience rendered, and the inescapable limitations imposed by theatrical art, that makes the drama. This only holds if you believe playwrights want to put "real life" on the stage or that the realist mimesis has the ambition to be absolutely faithful to lived experience. If, in fact, you believe the best realist theater is metaphoric, that it creates symbolic meaning, not imitation of everyday experience, then much of the argument of the father and stepdaughter about how the actors are not being truly rendering to their actual experience becomes a little tedious. The arguments are the least valuable thing about the play: it is, in fact, the brilliant metaphor Pirandello has created that makes the play so interesting as theatrical experience.)
The argument: Life vs. Form.
Life, in all its fluidity and diversity is without form: and even to try to formulate what an experience was, to remember it, even, is to distort and falsify. The Father and the Stepdaughter each tries to recreate the experience in Mme. Pace's in terms of their remembered versions of it: and then to see it relived as experienced in terms of dramatic art. The situations the characters try to recreate are strikingly like those in Dante's Inferno in his Commedia (The Divine Comedy) where the sinners are identified with their sin, and with nothing else, shaped by it, for all eternity. And the Six Characters as an unrealized group have much of the quality of characters in Limbo: that area, in Purgatory, of the unborn, or the infants who died at or soon after birth. Unlike Ibsen's characters, they no longer exist in Time, cannot be altered by it. They are somewhat like the members of the ghost supper in The Ghost Sonata after the Mummy has stopped the clock. Except, unlike Strindberg's characters, these cannot die, cannot escape in death.
When the Stepdaughter wants to use the scene in the brothel to condemn the Father, she is trying to transfix him for ever, like Dante's damned, on one deed, and the Father protests:
(Naked Masks: pp. 232-232)
The father protests that the whole fluidity and diversity of life, which it is impossible to convey, should be rendered in such a simplistic judgment as his stepdaughter's : and he further will protest when the Leading Man tries to recreate his experience in terms of theatric art. Both interpretations, his stepdaughter's and the actor's, alienate the father from the experience: he cannot recognize himself in either. The actors of the theater, however, necessarily create the audience's experience, theatric art, in terms that is the opposite of the fluidity and diversity of life: they have to impose conventions so that they can control what they are communicating. You cannot convey an inner emotion: you can only create visible signs by which an audience recognizes an emotion - and these are not the signs you make when experiencing.
The fact that an actor can convince himself he is going through an emotion tells the audience nothing

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