Places: Six Characters in Search of an Author

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1921 (English translation, 1922)

First produced: Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore: Commedia da fare, 1921

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Places DiscussedTheater stage

Theater Six Characters in Search of an Authorstage. The primary setting of the stage play is itself a theater stage. On this naked, darkened protruding platform in a theater, actors are rehearsing another Pirandello play, Mixing It Up, until they are interrupted by six people claiming to be dramatic characters hoping to be realized by an author. These six people (Father, Mother, Step-daughter, Son, Boy, and Child) are mystically enshrouded in light, suggesting further the theme of tension between art or illusion and life or reality. These six real personages dressed in black and wishing to relay their tragic stories are contrasted to the stage actors and the play’s manager, who listen to the tale of the Mother who “ran off” with the Father’s secretary and started a new family, only to be left a destitute widow of three offspring and of the Step-daughter, who is fixated in time by a near-incestuous encounter with the Father at Madame Pace’s brothel.

Madame Pace’s shop

Madame Pace’s shop. Attractive women’s shop with a table, racks of women’s cloaks, and hats that in act 2 is a front for procurement. The play’s stage becomes a mental platform on which the Step-daughter and Father insist on reliving their true feelings and actions, much to the chagrin of Leading Lady and Leading Man, who perceive, as artists, their own interpretation as more valid. Audiences must decipher which is more “real”–the never-changing illusion or the universal human tragedy. Readers, too, must examine their own selves in the process and must question their own philosophical-moral-aesthetic beliefs.

Out-of-doors

Out-of-doors. Location of the third act, which is a naturalistic one with a backdrop of trees with one or two wings and a fountain basin. It can be any time or place. The Child is found drowned in the fountain; the Boy, hiding behind the trees, fires a revolver. The play’s manager-author, like Pirandello the dramatist himself, becomes agitated with conventions and closure and with the uncertainty of reality, shouting: “To hell with it all! Never in my life has such a thing happened to me. I’ve lost a whole day over these people, a whole day!”

BibliographyBentley, Eric. The Pirandello Commentaries. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1986. These essays include an erudite analysis of Six Characters in Search of an Author. Bentley explores the abstraction of time and space, the characterizations, and Pirandello’s dialectical opposition of reality and illusion in the play.DiGaetani, John Louis, ed. A Companion to Pirandello Studies. Wesport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1991. This major source book features four studies on Six Characters in Search of an Author and two dozen essays on Pirandello’s influence, life, and other works. Appendices include the production history of Six Characters in Search of an Author and a bibliography.Goffman, Erving. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1974. An extraordinary sociological study, directly influenced by Pirandello, on the epistemological “frames” people use to make sense of the world. Goffman’s discussion of the “theatrical frame” is essential for students who wish to understand more about Pirandello’s violations of dramatic convention in Six Characters in Search of an Author.Pirandello, Luigi. “Six Characters in Search of an Author.” In Playwrights on Play Writing, edited by Toby Cole. New York: Hill & Wang, 1960. Pirandello’s personal account of his motivations for creating characters who, in turn, search for a dramatist to give them life.Vittorini, Domenico. The Drama of Luigi Pirandello. New York: Russell & Russell, 1935. An accessible survey endorsed by Pirandello. Includes a clear, nontechnical exposition of Six Characters in Search of an Author.
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