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‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ by Luigi Pirandello


Luigi Pirandello was one of the most important Italian dramatists and novelists of all times and one of the greatest contributors to the modern theatre. Living between the 19th and 20th centuries, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1934 (two years before his death) for his ability to include psychological analyses in theatrical plays. During his brilliant career, he wrote numerous novels, several short stories, and about 40 plays, innovating forms and themes of theatre.

Probably, ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ is his most famous and controversial play. It was performed for the first time on 9th May 1921 in a theatre in Rome: on that occasion, the play was heavily criticised by the audience as it was considered “a madhouse”, and Pirandello was forced to leave the theatre through a back exit to avoid the shocked opponents. Why? Essentially, because there are neither acts nor scenes and the story is not conventionally represented, following an illogical progression. This play is considered a masterpiece of the “Theatre of the Absurd”.

The play begins with the stage not ready. There is an acting company that tries to organise the rehearsals of another Pirandello’s play called ‘Mixing It Up’ (Il giuoco delle parti). Suddenly, the usher announces that six people - the Six Characters - have arrived, interrupting the rehearsal and irritating The Director, or the “Capocomico”. They get on stage and start to talk with The Director. After a while, the Six Characters convince The Director to listen their story, a series of dramatic events invented by “their author”. The Six Characters are: The Father, The Mother, The Stepdaughter, The Son, The Boy and The Child. The Father explains to The Director that they are unfinished characters in search of an author: he or she should finish their story.

The initially hostile “Capocomico” begins to listen more carefully to the Six Characters’ tale: The Father and The Mother had one child together; the Father tried to have sex with The Stepdaughter giving her money. While he is trying to justify himself claiming that he has never recognised her as his daughter, The Mother interrupts him and starts to confesses on stage that The Stepdaughter is actually the daughter of him, provoking disgust and outrage from everyone. After these revelations, The Director is interested and agrees to stage their story despite the scepticism of the actors.

The play ends with a drama involving The Boy, and with The Director confused about the authenticity of what happened; finally, he thinks that it has been a waste of time. It is a play within a play: for all the story, the reader is not sure whether the Six Characters have actually lived all these events or if it was an illusion.

As in other stories written by Pirandello, this is not only for theatre lovers: it contains philosophical and existentialist reflections, especially about relativism, illusion, cynicism and the real meaning of life. Pirandello extends his main philosophical argument of “everyone wears masks”, a base of many of his stories, especially in ‘One, No One, and One Hundred Thousand’.

In this play, he gave life to “fictional” characters, generating a metaphor of everyones life. This story can remind you a famous quote in the William Shakespeare’s play ‘As you like it’: “all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. Pirandello stretched this thought and created a powerful play that makes us reflect on our place in the universe.

Written by Alessandro Volpino 

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