The Play

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1058

The handbill that the audience receives upon entering the theater notes that the evening’s performance is based on a true tragedy: the suicide of La Vela, a young artist, whose fiancé, the noted actor Amelia Moreno, had betrayed him through an affair with Baron Nuti, a nobleman engaged to La Vela’s own sister. The handbill informs the audience that the number of acts to be performed cannot be stated specifically because of “unpleasant incidents” the management fears may arise during the evening.

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The performance opens at the Palegari home, with the report of an argument of the previous evening between Doro Palegari and Francesco Savio concerning the guilt of this unfaithful woman, here played by Delia Morello. Doro had defended her as innocent of any intent to harm the artist by her flirtation, while Francesco had blamed Delia for the young man’s suicide. Under probing by his friend Diego Cinci, Doro reverses his position and declares Delia guilty of treacherous deceit. At this point, Francesco arrives to apologize for his angry words to Doro on the previous evening; he too, under questioning by Diego, reverses his opinion, so that he now professes Delia blameless in the affair. Paradoxically, Doro and Francesco again quarrel from their new positions, this time to the point of a duel to take place the following morning at Francesco’s home.

At this juncture, Delia herself appears to thank Doro for his brave defense of her character, although she confesses herself deserving of blame for the artist’s death since she had gone off with Michele Rocca not out of love but rather merely to spite her young fiancé’s family for treating her as unworthy to marry their son. Her admission of such motivation only confuses Doro further. He sees himself now as committed to a duel with a close friend over a sordid affair concerning whose moral truth even the chief precipitator has no clear notion.

The curtain falls on the first act, only to go up again immediately on a replica of the side hall and a corner of the lobby of the theater itself. Here actors mingle as “critics” and “audience” to discuss the events of the first act. Some praise it as a true view of life in which “a single conception may present different phases, according as you look at it”; others condemn it as “just word play! All on the surface!” Suddenly Amelia Moreno appears among them, supposedly from her box in the theater, protesting that she is being maligned by this distorted and thinly veiled presentation of her painful situation. Her friends intervene and lead her off as the actors leave the “lobby” at the warning bell, and the curtain rises on act 2.

The second act opens the following morning at Francesco’s home, where preparations are being made for his duel with Doro. Diego arrives, bringing news of Delia’s visit to Doro’s home on the evening before. He reports her self-condemnation as the cause of the artist’s death and her confirmation of Francesco’s original opinion of her as guilty of the entire tragic affair. Although Francesco now realizes the baselessness of dueling with his friend when neither of them believes—or can even know—the truth of the situation on which they originally quarreled, he intends to continue with the duel simply because Doro insulted him before his friends. Only moments later, however, he is willing to cancel the duel since Delia herself admits her guilt. On urging from Diego, however, he is just as quickly led around to see that he must duel to defend Delia “against herself, now that she’s accused herself before the man who at first tried to defend her.”

With this same sort of polemic inversion, Diego continues to manipulate Francesco’s view of the truth of Delia’s guilt or even her level of self-awareness of her actions. Francesco’s friends protest Diego’s actions until, turning on them, he shows how each one, including himself, is equally unaware of his true motives in any single action. They are all mannequins, mere masks created out of their own false interpretations of their own and others’ words and acts. Discovering the truth within, Diego claims, takes a courage of which humans are seldom capable.

At this moment Delia arrives to speak with Francesco, and he withdraws to meet her. Following his exit, Michele bursts angrily into the room, looking for Delia, whom he has followed to this house. He too is confused about his own motives for running off with her on the night before her marriage, protesting that it was only on a bet with the artist to show him what sort of woman she really was; at the same time, he blames himself for being part of such a treacherous bargain. Once again, Diego as provocateur points out the multiple interpretations that could be made of both Michele’s and Delia’s actions, suggesting finally that Michele acted out of his own fascination with the beautiful Delia.

When Francesco reenters, he quarrels with Michele concerning Delia and proposes to duel with him instead of with Doro. Delia enters, and immediately she and Michele embrace passionately, revealing finally to themselves and the others their fierce love. They leave in each other’s arms as the second act concludes.

Again the curtain rises almost immediately, on the same hallway scene as that of the first interlude. Amelia has again come down from her box and is heard on the stage screaming and fighting with the actor playing Delia. The stage door bursts open, and Amelia is heard complaining of the public insult this play is to her. Rumors spread that she has slapped the face of the leading lady as well as the face of Luigi Pirandello, who is in the audience tonight. The leading lady and other actors refuse to go on with the play, and the audience is in an uproar.

Baron Nuti also appears at the stage door to protest the insult to himself. As he and Amelia meet, they replay the very reconciliation scene that has just been played out at the close of act 2. When they leave the theater together, the stage manager announces there will be no act 3 this evening, and he sends the audience away.

Dramatic Devices

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Each in His Own Way is one element of Pirandello’s so-called theater trilogy, which also includes Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore (pr., pb. 1921; Six Characters in Search of an Author, 1922) and Questa sera si recita a soggetto (pr., pb. 1930; Tonight We Improvise, 1932). The central metaphorical structure of each of these works is a play folded within a play. Pirandello viewed life itself as the ultimate drama and strove through this structural device to immerse the audience within the ambience of the theater so deeply that they could realize themselves as an integral part of the action being played out before them, as actors in their own dramatic role of spectators in the theater of life.

Within Each in His Own Way, the audience actually experiences the dichotomy of reality and illusion as it views its very self in the two interludes. With an inversion of stage space that brings the lobby into the audience chamber, Pirandello allows the audience to eavesdrop on its own ambiguous feelings concerning the convoluted events of acts 1 and 2. The characters are effectively in the actual audience, the apparent audience is in the play, and all is in turmoil. Pirandello extends the physical and psychological limits of the stage into the dressing room and out into the audience itself; characters, actors, and audience together are the drama. Through this metatheatrical device, Pirandello strives to make the viewer/reader of the play fully aware of the theatricality of the supposed illusion and, as a paradoxical corollary, fully aware of the illusionary nature of its own supposed realities.

Pirandello establishes three levels of reality in Each in His Own Way: that of the first act presentation concerning the Delia/Michele conflict, that of the “audience” actors as they discuss the presentation, and that of the apparently real persons whose lives are being shown fictionally. Moreover, there is still a fourth level of reality functioning behind all of these: that of the viewer and reader. Thus Pirandello actually models his thesis that reality is an illusory construction each person creates. Using fluidity of time, place, personality, and action that doubles back and repeats itself in mirror images, he illustrates the ambiguity of interpretation of human motives. That ambiguity, to Pirandello, is an inescapable result of the very human practice of denying in words what one cannot help revealing in actions.

A number of lesser devices work together to convey Pirandello’s meaning. These include the use of Diego as a character who in a literal sense speaks for the play. Diego explicates Pirandello’s purpose by manipulating Doro, Francesco, their well-meaning though equally blind friends, and finally Michele in seesaw response to what each believes to be the truth. Another means of revealing the contrary faces of reality is the acerbic exchange of comments by the “critics” and “audience members” in the interludes. Here Pirandello holds up a critical mirror to the play itself even as it unfolds—and a cracked mirror it is, reflecting now this bit of truth about the performance and now that.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 102

Sources for Further Study

Bassanese, Fiora A. Understanding Luigi Pirandello. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.

Bishop, Thomas. Pirandello and the French Theater. New York: New York University Press, 1960.

Caesar, Ann. Characters and Authors in Luigi Pirandello. New York: Clarendon Press, 1998.

Caputi, Anthony. Pirandello and the Triumph of Modern Consciousness. Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Matthaei, Renate. Luigi Pirandello. Translated by Simon Young and Erika Young. New York: F. Ungar, 1973.

Paolucci, Anne. Pirandello’s Theater: The Recovery of the Modern Stage for Dramatic Art. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1974.

Starkie, Walter. Luigi Pirandello, 1867-1936. 3d rev. ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965.

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