de Filippo, Eduardo
Eduardo de Filippo 1900-1984
Italian playwright, screenwriter, poet, and director.
De Filippo was among Italy's most distinguished contemporary playwrights. Strongly influenced by the social milieu of his native Naples, de Filippo continues to be highly respected in Europe for his farces, in which reality is often treated as shifting and transitory.
De Filippo was born in Naples, Italy, in 1900, to Eduardo Scarpetta and Luisa de Filippo. He entered the theater while still an adolescent, performing with siblings in his father's acting troupe, then moving to comedic and musical companies. By 1930 de Filippo had collaborated—frequently under pseudonyms—on numerous skits and one-act farces. Around this time he reteamed with family members and began performing his own works in Naples. He also commenced his film career, appearing in the 1932 production Tre uomini in frak. Five years later he made his screenwriting debut with Sono stato io! (1937). During World War II de Filippo worked only sporadically, but once peace was restored he resumed his varied careers, and throughout the remainder of the 1940s he produced what are usually considered his greatest works. De Filippo continued to write plays and later screenplays through the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, and in the early 1980s he was a lecturer at the University of Rome. He also maintained a very successful acting career, both on stage and in films. He died in 1984.
Among de Filippo's most important works is Napoli Milionaria (1945; Naples Millionaire), a realistic drama about a family's involvement in the Italian black market. He followed this work with Questi fantasmi! (1946; Neapolitan Ghosts), a comedy in which a husband mistakes his wife's ever-present lover for a ghost. In 1946 de Filippo also wrote Filumena marturano (Filumena), in which a former prostitute obtains financial stability for her three offspring by successfully conning her lover—who is already engaged to a younger woman—into marriage. De Filippo continued his success in Italy with Le voci di dentro (1948; Inner Voices), in which a man mistakes for reality his dream in which a friend is murdered by neighbors. After learning of his folly, the dreamer is visited by the falsely accused neighbors, who accuse each other of plotting the crime. Shifting reality is also the premise of La grande magica (1949; Grand Magic), de Filippo's complex comedy about infidelity and faith. In this play an adulteress cuckolds her husband after vanishing as part of a magic show. When she fails to return, her husband is given a small box from which she can be produced if he trusts in her fidelity. Four years pass before the untrusting husband, convinced by the magician that only a few minutes have elapsed, decides to open the box. But before he has opened it, his wife reappears. The husband, however, prefers to believe that she is still inside the box.
It is probably as a screenwriter that de Filippo received his greatest recognition in the United States. Italian sex comedies were particularly prevalent among foreign films shown in America during the 1960s. Among de Filippo's contributions to this genre included such films as Matrimonio all'italiana (1964; Marriage Italian Style), featuring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni—adapted from de Filippo's Filumena,—and, Shoot Loud, Louder … I Don't Understand (1967), adapted from Le voci di dentro and pairing Raquel Welch with Mastroianni. With English-speaking audiences, de Filippo enjoyed perhaps his greatest theatrical success in the 1970s with Saturday, Sunday, Monday, a translated production of his play Sabato, Demenica e Lunedi (1959).
Largely because his language and themes do not translate well, de Filippo is not generally known in the United States. However he still enjoys immense status in his native Italy, with some critics ranking him second only to Luigi Pirandello, with whom de Filippo once worked. Some critics have also seen de Filippo's influence in the works of later Italian playwrights, notably Dario Fo. He developed such a following as an actor of both stage and screen that he is readily identified by just his first name in Italy.
Farmacia de turno (play) 1920
Ditegli sempre: si (play) 1931
Natale in casa Cupiello (play) 1931
Chi è chiù felice 'e me! (play) 1932
Ditegli sempre si (play) 1932
Gennariello (play) 1932
Quei figuri di trent'anni fa (play) 1932
Sik-Sik, l'artefice magico (play) 1932
Uomo e galantuomo (play) 1933
La speranza ha trovato un alloggio [with G. Riva] (play) 1936
Sono stato io! (screenplay) 1937
Pericolosamente (play) 1938
Uno coi capelli bianchi (play) 1938
La parte di Amleto (play) 1940
Non ti pago! (play) 1941
Io, l'erede (play) 1942
Napoli Milionaria [Naples Millionaire] (play) 1945
Filumena marturano [Filumena] (play) 1946
Questi fantasmi! [Neapolitan Ghosts] (play) 1946
San Carlino 1947 (play) 1947
Le bugie con le gambe lunghe [Lies With Long Legs] (play) 1948
Le voci di dentro [Inner Voices] (play) 1948
La grande magica [Grand Magic] (play) 1949
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SOURCE: Bentley, Eric. “Eduardo de Filippo and the Neapolitan Theatre.” Kenyon Review 13 (winter 1951): 111-26.
[In the following essay, Bentley surveys de Filippo's themes in his major plays and discusses the influence of his life in Naples on de Filippo's work.]
Both in technique and philosophy, Eduardo de Filippo is traditional. At the same time he strikes me as one of the three or four original figures in the theatre today. Let me tell something about his plays, beginning with the two latest: La Grande Magia (The Big Magic) and La Paura Numero Uno (Fear Number One).
Calogero di Spelta is so jealous he will hardly let his wife Marta out of his sight. Her friend Mariano has to resort to strategem to be alone with her. He bribes a visiting conjurer to use Marta in a disappearing act. The conjurer thus brings her where Mariano is—but instead of returning after fifteen minutes, as arranged, the young couple run off to Venice. Meanwhile the conjurer must save face before his audience. He tells Calogero that his wife can be produced out of a small box—which he shows the company—if he, the husband, has complete faith in her, that is, is sure she is “faithful” to him.
Otto the conjurer saves the occasion. But days pass, and weeks, and months, and the waiting husband is not to be appeased by the improvisation of a moment. He...
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SOURCE: Maurino, Ferdinando D. “The Drama of de Filippo.” Modern Drama 3, no. 4 (February 1961): 348-56.
[In the following essay, Maurino presents an overview of de Filippo's plays, focusing on their Neapolitan themes.]
At the end of World War II the plays of Eduardo De Filippo, a Neapolitan writer, began to attract not only the audiences and readers in Italy but also those abroad. Eric Bentley1 and Lander MacClintock2 wrote briefly on him; and a few years ago Thornton Wilder3 stated that De Filippo was his favorite contemporary dramatic author.
Previously De Filippo had been known mainly as a comic actor whose plays were considered as vehicles for his acting. In fact, when in 1955 Theatre Arts devoted an issue to the Italian theater, he was treated chiefly as an actor.4 This is, however, no longer the case. After reading and studying his drama, one may well believe that a new voice and a great playwright has arisen. The maschera of a new Pulcinella has fallen, and the humor has turned to grave considerations of the problems of life, not only in Naples but also in the universe. As Pirandello forsook his Sicilian characterisics in favor of universal concepts, and as Di Giacomo left the Neapolitan environment for a wider world,5 so De Filippo progressed from presentations of local Neapolitan foibles to profound...
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SOURCE: D'Aponte, Mimi. “Encounters with Eduardo de Filippo.” Modern Drama 16 (December 1973): 347-53.
[In the following essay, D'Aponte recounts discussions she has had with de Filippo.]
JANUARY 4, 10:00 P.M. TEATRO ELISEO, ROME
“People do become monuments.” Eduardo De Filippo is sitting alone in his dressing room, smoking. I come in without an introduction (having made my way backstage between Acts 2 and 3 of Il Monumento by looking stranded and murmuring something about an American study of Neapolitan theatre), and he immediately gets up and shakes my hand. He invites me to sit down, returns to his chair, and continues smoking. I explain my real wishes in nervous Italian (may I speak with him about his work when he returns to Naples in the spring?) and his answer is honest and to the point: “I won't remember your name. Tell my secretary you spoke with me in Rome.” I compliment him on the first two acts of his new play. De Filippo is dedicated to Il Monumento's philosophy,1 and words begin to pour out of him as he launches into a discussion of Ascanio Penna's character—his character.2 He speaks of Penna's entombment, both physically and psychologically, within his ideals. We sense someone standing at the door, and turn together to see my husband who has come to learn if I have found Eduardo. De Filippo greets him as warmly and...
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SOURCE: Mignone, Mario B. “De Filippo's Inspiration and Creative Process.” In Eduardo De Filippo, pp. 20-36. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984.
[In the following excerpt, Mignone examines the role of the city of Naples in shaping de Filippo's art.]
NAPLES: DE FILIPPO'S MAJOR INSPIRATION
Eric Bentley has put well the need for examining De Filippo's art in the context of his city: “It is sometimes debated how far we need to know an author's background in order to judge his work. I should think we need to know it whenever we would otherwise be in danger of taking something as his personal contribution when it is a representative product of his time and place. Thus some of Eduardo's attitudes … may seem forced when we take them as an assertion of his will, whereas as an expression of a social tradition we might let them pass”1. To the mind of a foreign spectator, the attitude of Gennaro in Millionaires' Naples!—the husband who disapproves of, yet cooperates in his wife's illegal business—may appear inconsistent. However, his actions, like those of other De Filippo characters, are consistent with the world view of the people of Naples. To Eduardo's people, the state is the enemy. The Fascist suppression of Neapolitan regionalism was only the most recent episode in their long history of oppression. When Matteo Generoso, the protagonist of Fear Number...
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SOURCE: Mignone, Mario B. “Early Works: Range and Versatility.” In Eduardo De Filippo, pp. 37-66. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1984.
[In the following excerpt, Mignone explores the development of de Filippo's major themes as they appeared in his early, often critically neglected plays.]
FROM FARCE TO SATIRE
De Filippo's theatrical works of the first phase, written before World War II and collected under the title Cantata dei giorni pari (Cantata for even days), are usually neglected by critics. In 1945 De Filippo himself characterized them as “plays of the old theater”:
In those plays I wanted to show the world of plot and intrigue and interest: the adulterers, the gambler, the superstitious, the slothful, the fraudulent. All part of a recognizable, definable Neapolitan way of life, but a way of life belonging to the nineteenth century. In those plays I kept alive a Naples which was already dead in part, and in part was covered up and hidden by the “paternalistic” care of the Fascist regime, and which, if it should revive today, would be seen in a different way, under a different aspect.1
But De Filippo's judgment on his work is too severe, for many of these plays have been restaged since 1945 with great success because of their relevancy and their theatricality.
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Acton, Harold. “Eduardo de Filippo.” In The Genius of the Italian Theater, edited by Eric Bentley, pp. 551-63. New York: The New American Library, 1964.
Acton notes the difficulty of translating into English de Filippo's poetic Naples dialect in his work.
Additional coverage of de Filippo's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 114, 132; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Ed. 1; and Reference Guide to World Literature, Ed. 2.
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