Critical Evaluation

By the 1950’s some critics judged Sicilian-born Luigi Pirandello to be the most important playwright of his era. That estimation probably originated partly on the basis of his 1934 Nobel Prize in Literature and partly because of the psychological realism of his works, especially his dramas. Since the plays are marred by rather clumsy exposition, form was definitely not a factor in this choice.

Among Pirandello’s best-known works are Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore (1921; Six Characters in Search of an Author, 1922), Enrico IV (1922; Henry IV, 1923), and Cosìè (se vi pare) (1917; Right You Are (If You Think So), 1922). Even though the plots are widely different, all deal with the same theme: reality and identity.

Walter Starkie, whose early study of Pirandello, probably contains the most exhaustive and credible analysis of his work, points out that Pirandello represents the culmination of various Italian theatrical traditions. One tradition is that of the commedia dell’arte, a type of professional theater that developed in the sixteenth century and that utilized masks so extensively that the masks became synonymous with and inseparable from the characters they represented. Another tradition is that of grotesqueries, dramatic pieces that are neither comedy nor tragedy and that intermingle reality and fantasy. Such works probably developed from the attempts to turn the improvisational commedia into a literary form. The third is that of the futuristic movement, which was an outgrowth of expanding technology and depicted human beings as a small part of a vast machine. The movement reflected the dissatisfaction of a society that had lost not only the security of a sense of belonging...

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