Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Six Characters in Search of an Author is a parody of the “well-made play.” All theatrical conventions and functions of personnel are examined in the play-within-the-play, which operates on different temporal planes.
A troupe plans to rehearse a play, and the introductory remarks underline the necessity of following Pirandello’s directions. The Actors’ clothing and mirthful comportment contrast with those of the disintegrated family who appear on stage to be immortalized in art. The rehearsal is postponed, and a theater workshop ensues. As the title suggests, the Characters offer a play-in-the-making, which, like the commedia dell’arte, justifies a “crucial scene.” Their attempt to generate a play, based on a sketch that a writer had made before abandoning the project, constitutes the inner play, while the comments of the Director and Actors, as audiences, form the outside comedy. Their improvisations, however, are judged unsatisfactory; they know neither how to create a play nor how to interpret roles. Without a literary text, the theater, too, must reject them. That is their tragedy.
Even though the Characters cannot agree about the facts, a linear plot emerges, and two events are staged. In the first melodramatic tableau, the Father visits Madame Pace’s boutique, a front for a brothel. While he is embracing his wife’s daughter, the Mother instinctively intervenes to safeguard the girl’s virtue. Unlike those of...
(The entire section is 450 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
As a stage manager and a group of actors prepare to rehearse a Pirandello play, they are interrupted by the appearance of six characters: a man of about fifty, a woman, a young woman, a young man of twenty-two, a boy of fourteen, and a little girl. The man and the young woman are searching for an author who will put all six of them into a drama. They insist that they are already living characters but that they need an author to put their drama into suitable form for the stage. The manager, at first annoyed at the interruption of his rehearsal, finally listens with some interest to the rather confused story that the man and the young woman, who, it turns out, is his stepdaughter, try to tell him.
Years ago the father got rid of his wife, whom he found both boring and pitiable, by providing her with a lover, his former secretary, to whom she might go when she was rejected by her husband. Long afterward, the father visited Madame Pace’s dress shop, a legitimate business that she operated as a cover for her procuring, and was provided with a pretty young woman whom he did not recognize as his stepdaughter until they were separated by the sudden appearance of his wife. When he learned that his wife was destitute, her lover having died two months before, he permitted her to return to his home with her daughter and two younger children, all illegitimate.
To forestall a refusal by the manager to act as vicar-author for the drama, the father assures him that he need not be bothered about the presence of the two children, for they will quickly disappear from the story. In fact, the daughter will also disappear, leaving only the three original members of the family. The manager dismisses his actors for a few minutes in order to hear more of the plot as it is outlined to him in his office.
Returning a few minutes later from the office conference, the manager sets about putting together the play, asking his prompter to take down the most important points in shorthand so that his actors might properly learn their parts later. At this point the father interrupts; the manager, he says, simply does not understand. This is not a play for the manager’s professional actors; it belongs to the characters themselves. There is no need for actors when the manager already has six living characters at hand.
After hearing similar objections from the stepdaughter, the manager consents to use the characters, as this is only a rehearsal, but he wonders who will play Madame Pace if they are going to do the dress shop scene. After borrowing hats and other clothes from several actors to hang on clothes pegs, the father arranges the set. Madame Pace suddenly appears to play her part, but when she finds that she is expected to play it in the presence of the mother, who will be watching the rehearsal from the side of the stage, she is scandalized at such impropriety and leaves in a rage.
The rehearsal continues, with the mother watching and listening intently, suffering...
(The entire section is 1224 words.)