Six Characters in Search of an Author, Luigi Pirandello’s best-known play, contrasts illusion and reality, as do several of the author’s other works. It may also be thought of as a dramatic criticism of the popular but artificial “well-made” play of the nineteenth century. Instead of starting with a cleverly constructed drama, Pirandello begins with a group of characters and experiments with letting them—with some professional direction—try to fashion their story into an actable drama. Inexperience, clashes of opinion, interruptions, and above all a lack of poetic understanding defeat their purpose. Nevertheless, the attempt itself produces a drama of a sort, not the characters’ but Pirandello’s.
One of the greatest Italian playwrights of the twentieth century, Pirandello is now generally recognized as a classic figure of world literature. His stature was recognized when he received the Nobel Prize in 1934, two years before his death. First a poet, then a novelist and writer of short stories, finally a dramatist, Pirandello evolved gradually toward the forms and themes on which his international reputation is based. If his early work is realistic and naturalistic, much of his later, major work may be characterized by his description of Six Characters in Search of an Author as “a mixture of tragic and comic, fantastic and realistic.” The basic ideas of his major plays are somber, even bitter: the idea that no one can...
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