Two main themes in Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author are the need for order and structure (on stage and in life). How do the ideas of “rehearsal” and “performance” of a fixed (i.e. static or unchanging) dramatic text resolve or disrupt this need for order and structure (on stage and in life)?
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This play is Italy’s most successful contribution to the artistic expression of the philosophy of Existentialism. Dramatic characters are inventions and constructions of an author – they exist to perform a fairly specific rhetorical and linguistic set of actions, and their “success” or “failure” can be measured by how well they do so. Humans, on the other hand, in the eyes of the existentialist (existence precedes essence), are not constructions of a creator, but design and “build” themselves by every choice they make. For Pirandello, then, to write a play in which “characters” are seeking someone to “construct” them (cf. Waiting for Godot) and give them meaning and purpose (an “author”) is a very creative and dramatic way to state the difference between existentialism and theocratic, essence-based views. Rehearsals and performances, and all the other structural elements of staging a play, have no parallel in real life – we do not get to “perfect” our next speech or action, and there is no “director” to co-ordinate our actions into a meaningful whole, and no audience other than our family and friends. That this Pirandello work has been successfully “staged” for dozens of years, demonstrates the profundity of the metaphor.
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