Wednesday, June 28, 2006


"Each one must arrange his mask as best he can -- his outer mask. For inside of it there is then the inner mask, which often fails to square with the outer. And nothing is true!" -- Luigi Pirandello.

Playwright Luigi Pirandello was born on this date in 1867 in Agrigento, Sicily.

A teacher at a girl's school, Pirandello experimented with verse and narrative prose (especially the latter, under the tutelage of Luigi Capuana) and criticized the drama as a second-rate art form -- perhaps in part due to some bad experiences in attempting to bring certain of his early works to the stage. His career path as a playwright, however, was sealed when in 1916 an old friend was cleaning Pirandello's apartment, found one of his old plays and sent it to the director of a Sicilian theatrical company. Once enticed, Pirandello unleashed an avalanche of new plays.

His masterpiece, Six Characters in Search of an Author, premiered in Rome in 1921 -- and after the first performance, a near riot broke out on the stage as actors, critics and members of the audience fought about what they had just experienced. The play ended up being one of the most influential stage works of the 20th century, containing a heavy dose of theatrical self-consciousness, a play within a play and sudden shifts of mood from the comic to the tragic and from the naturalistic to the grotesque, with stock dramatic effects heaped one upon the next with the result that they finally destroy contemporary theatrical conventions altogether.

Underlying his works was a feeling of isolation associated with the impossibility of communication in an absurdly organized world, and a proposed antidote for such impossibility, namely the wearing of another, perhaps more convenient personality. He joined the Italian fascists in 1924 -- perhaps forgiveable only to the extent one understands Pirandello's deep-seated fear of chaos and his own willingness to wear a convenient mask -- and was rewarded by Mussolini for a time with a state-funded theater company.

Pirandello won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934 (although some say the fascist-hating Italian writer Benedetto Croce would have been the winner that year were it not for the political intrigues of Mussolini's ambassador in Sweden).

Pirandello died on December 10, 1936.

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