Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936)
After writing powerful and realistic novels and short stories, such as, The Outcast (1901), II fu Mattia Pascal (1903, The Late Mattia Pascal), he turned to the theatre and became a leading exponent of contemporary drama. He is the father of Meta theatre in world literature with the invention of his great modern play Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921). His plays challenged the conventions of naturalism and had a significant influence on the development of European drama, anticipating the anti-illusionist theatre of Bracht. He has established himself as one of the important innovators of the modern drama.
His best known novels are The Late Mattia Pascal (1904), The Old and the Young (1913), Shoot! (1916) and One, None, and a Hundred thousand (1926).
Pirandello achieved a great success in the plays. He authored over 50 plays, among which his two well-known plays are Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) and Henry IV (1922). These two plays brought him name and fame in the world literature. His dramas written from 1918 to 1935 get published under the collective title of Naked Masks.
Pirandello is always preoccupied with the problem of identity. Right You Are (If You Think You Are) (1918) is about two people who hold contradictory notions about the third person's identity. In the same manner in his To Clothe the Naked (1923), the protagonist tries her best to establish her individuality by taking many identities. All her identities are taken back by her, she finally, realizes her real position in the society and dies naked at last.
In Six Characters in Search of an Author the stage itself becomes the symbol of appearance versus reality. The play is about the artistic problem in converting the ideal reality of the six characters into the casual reality of the stage. For the actors it is really hard and in a sense impossible to represent the true characters on the stage. It is a clash between two world of art and life. As it is about the play within the play, it is a Meta theatre.
Most of his work generally depicts the Italian middle class society. His plays are based on the dialogues and discussion on the essence and appearance, illusion and reality, the problem of personal identity, and the lack of communication. For him, the society is full of people wearing masks. In the absence of mask, no one in the society can live, they either have to die or have to become insane. Most of his characters in the plays refuse to wear the fake masks of the society, and they choose death for the freedom. The death refers to the symbolic death of the insanity. Some characters in his plays willingly chose the mask as a token of freedom.
Pirandello's influence in modern theatre resulted from his experimentation with the concept of realism that dominated drama from the time of Ibsen and Strindberg. He questioned all thought of norms by bringing the very idea of reality under philosophical scrutiny. His questioning helped play wrights to open themselves up with new approaches to theater in the early part of the 20th century. Pirandello was one of the first and the best experimentalist.
Pirandello brings the very concept of the relativism in regard to fiction and reality. He brings fragmented aspects of life with breakdown of human personality. Pirandello says that human tragedy does not lie what a person does, rather it lies the total condition of human life. This very concept is a revolution of modern theory in the area of art and literature. He always defines the things in terms of double men of metaphor: yes or no, truth and false, reality and illusion, reason and emotion. In conventional plays, we find conflicts between feeling and reason or heart and mind, but his plays are guided by consciousness in action.