Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 866
Alberto Moravia led Italian literature away from the romanticism of the past and championed the realism he believed suited the twentieth century. As a realist, he intended his writing to bear witness to reality in a manner that affirmed the objective existence of both people and things. Moravia explored the world and the psychological state of his characters in relation to each other. He shunned “artistic” prose as mere verbal exercises and mythologizing as falseness. He concentrated exclusively on character and situation. His fiction proved to be so dramatic in quality that more than twenty of his novels were adapted into films.
Moravia’s plays provided a direct platform for the expression of ideas he found stylistically difficult to include in his novels, yet they seldom captivated audiences with the same power that his fiction achieved. In Moravia’s drama, characters often make long speeches embodying their author’s views of reality and the human condition. Productions of his plays were short-lived and received little critical acclaim. Many have yet to be translated into English. Over time, Moravia came to believe that theater in Italy had been surpassed in quality by film and that the country’s bourgeois audiences lacked vitality and diversity and so were only interested in drama as a social event. In the public view, Moravia’s collection of essays L’uomo come fine e altri saggi, 1964 (Man as an End: A Defense of Humanism: Literary, Social and Political Essays, 1965) more attractively expressed many of his principal ideas and beliefs, ones that were difficult to communicate in his chosen novel form and that were not well received as plays.
The drama version of Gli Indifferenti (the indifferent ones), produced in 1948, recasts the story of the meaningless life of a young Italian male, a plot clearly drawn from Moravia’s own youth and his disenchantment with Italian society. In the play, the young man’s sister is seduced by his mother’s lover, but despite the dishonor to himself and his family, the young man remains powerless to react effectively.
La mascherata (the masquerade) is a dramatic version of the novel banned by Mussolini for its satiric indictment of his regime. Set in a Latin American country replete with the oppression, spying, and self-centeredness of the ruling classes that parallels Italy in the 1930’s, the story revolves around a dictator who is modest, shy, and clumsy around women. The dictator intends to further his goal of enacting a benign government by ridding his regime of the true villain, the repressive chief of police.
Produced in 1955, Beatrice Cenci is based on a historical event—the famous Cenci case, the story that had fascinated both English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and French novelist Stendhal. An aging aristocrat known for his wanton behavior and violent temper, Count Francesco Cenci sexually abuses his daughter Beatrice. A conspiracy unfolds in which Beatrice, her stepmother Lucrezia, and the Governor of the Castle of La Petrella, Olimpio, plot to rid themselves of their monstrous oppressor. The Count, who has experienced “goodness” as stultifying, finds excitement and identity in terrifying and mistreating others. His abuse of Beatrice initiates her desperate attempt to regain her innocence by the murder of her abuser. She allows the already married Olimpio to become her lover to recruit him. After the death of Francesco, Beatrice is repulsed by Olimpio’s plan that the two of them live a normal life as if they were man and wife and decides to enter a nunnery as a last hope of regaining her innocence. She plans to mortify herself in obedience and humble herself in prayer, to give up her selfhood in sacrifice and in doing so to defeat hypocrisy in its most odious and virulent form. In spite of Beatrice’s good intentions, all of the conspirators are arrested, and at the end of the play, the audience is left to contemplate the emptiness of life itself.
The World’s the World
Moravia wrote for the theater again in 1966 in the tautologically titled The World’s the World. In this two-act play, a group of people retire to a villa to undergo experimental language therapy in hopes of improving their lives by reducing their use of emotion-laden words. The therapist contends that a cleansed rhetoric rich in euphemisms, common sayings, and clichés will heal the sickness brought on by such contaminated terms as “soul,” “love,” “marvelous” and “God.”
Il dio Kurt
This 1968 play exploring the evils of governmental oppression recapitulates Moravia’s protests against fascism. In Il dio Kurt (the god Kurt) an SS commander forces Jews in a concentration camp to enact the story of Oedipus. The Oedipal theme of incest is used metaphorically (if perhaps not convincingly) to reveal the fallacy of racial superiority.
La vita è gioco
The following year’s production, La vita è gioco (life is a game), recalls the social satire of The World’s the World. Moravia evokes gamesmanship as a deceitful occupation used to manipulate society into sidestepping important issues such as inequality, poverty, war, and other societal ills created by excessive consumerism. In all, the play is a comedic treatment of kidnapping, dishonor, and death.