It took many years for Eduardo De Filippo to achieve the national and international success of the other famous Italian playwrights, Luigi Pirandello and Ugo Betti, despite his extraordinary dramatic output and despite the continuous and astounding success of his plays, which were performed in the major cities of Italy and elsewhere in Europe. In large part, this relative critical neglect was a consequence of De Filippo’s decision to employ the Neapolitan dialect.
In 1932, however, the De Filippo Company presented Chi è cchiù felice ’e me! (who is happier than I?) at one of the most prestigious theaters of Naples, the Sannazzaro, and this, coupled with the backing of the well-known Renato Simoni, Massimo Bontempelli, and Luigi Pirandello, the 1934 Nobel Prize-winner in literature, began to shape De Filippo’s place in the history of Italian literature. By 1938, he was receiving wide critical acclaim. The Best House in Naples, published in 1947, was the dramatic vehicle that propelled De Filippo into stardom; with it, he struck at the very heart of the problem of contemporary living.
Perhaps De Filippo’s greatest contribution to the dramatic theater was the reestablishment of communication between the stage and the audience. De Filippo believed that audiences want the author to tell them about things that happen in their own lives—things with which they can identify. De Filippo said that when the author does this, he enters the theater from the stage door but leaves it arm in arm with the audience. To be successful in this endeavor, the author must prepare a script that is always an instrument that is mobile, flexible, and malleable for the public.
A second important contribution was De Filippo’s refinement of some of the elements of the commedia dell’arte as they existed in the Neapolitan dialect theater. His Pulcinella and other commedia dell’arte characters resembled the original, but they were changed to become more dramatic, more capable of conveying their real suffering and sadness within the comic nature of their prescribed roles.
On December 18, 1972, De Filippo was awarded the prestigious Feltrinelli Prize for Drama, and on December 16, 1975, he received the Pirandello Prize for Drama. On July 15, 1977, he was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Letters, by the University of Birmingham, England, and in November, 1980, he received the same degree from the University of Rome. In September, 1981, he was made a senator for life in the Italian Parliament.
Ardito, Carlo. Introduction to Four Plays, by Eduardo De Filippo. London: Methuen Drama, 1992. In his introduction to his translations of four major plays by De Filippo, Ardito presents information on Filippo’s life and works.
Ciolli, Marco. The Theatre of Eduardo De Filippo: An Introductory Study. New York: Vantage Press, 1993. A critical study of the drama of De Filippo. Bibliography.
Hampton, Wilborn. “A Popular Italian Playwright and a Wartime Family.” Review of Napoli milionaria!, by Eduardo De Filippo. New York Times Current Events Edition, February 13, 1995, p. C15. A review of De Filippo’s Napoli milionaria!, performed by the Jean Cocteau Repertory at the Bouwerie Lane Theater in New York.
Mignone, Mario B. Eduardo De Filippo. Boston: Twayne, 1984. A biography of De Filippo that covers his life and works. Bibliography and index.
Stokes, John. “Priceless Tears.” Review of Filumena, by Eduardo De Filippo. Times Literary Supplement, October 23, 1998, p. 22. Stokes reviews a production of De Filippo’s Filumena (The Best House in Naples), directed by Peter Hall and starring Judi Dench at the Piccadilly Theatre in London.