Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1019
Amalia is wife to Agazzi and sister to Laudisi. She and her daughter Dina feel rebuffed by Signora Frola because she does not answer the door or return their visit when they call on her. Their interest in the gossip about Signora Frola is part human concern, but mostly provincial curiosity. Signora Agazzi enjoys and is quite comfortable with the prestige that comes of being wife to the councilor.
Agazzi is a provincial councilor, or lawyer, husband to Amalia, Laudisi’s sister. Agazzi is close to fifty years old, accustomed to the authority of his status in a small town. He participates fully in gossiping about Signora Frola and Ponzo.
Dina, at nineteen, acts very grown up about her role in detecting the true details of gossip.
Centuri is the Police Commissioner who is brought in to investigate the history of Ponzo, Ponzo’s wife, and his mother-in-law. He is around forty, very serious, and single-minded about his duties. He presents his findings with an air of having solved the mystery, failing, however, to comprehend that facts are insignificant in this case. He is quite relieved to be given the duty to call in his superior, the Prefect, since that puts him once again in the realm of concrete action.
Signora Cini is one of the ladies of the town, an old woman with affected manners and an air of surprise about the misdeeds she loves to hear of in others. She, along with Signora Nenni and the Sirellis operate similarly to the Greek chorus, as a group of normal citizens who react to the events of the play. Unlike the Greek chorus, however, they do not guide the audience, but rather serve as a foil to the audience’s hoped-for reaction.
Signora Frola is the mysterious older woman who is stationed in a fashionable apartment by her son-in-law. The townspeople cannot decide whether to believe her or her son-in-law. Either she is quite mad, delusional about her dead daughter, or quite sane, and foolishly going along with Ponza’s delusions, and thus play-acting at being insane, to mollify his insanity. Her pleas to be left alone are ignored.
See The Prefect
Laudisi (‘‘Nunky’’ to Dina, because he is her uncle) good-naturedly plays the devil’s advocate in the gossip ring, using a Socratic kind of probing and jibing. He tries but fails to convince the others of the futility of discovering the truth about Ponza and his mother-in-law. He tells the Sirellis from the very beginning that they are both right, explaining that he himself ‘‘is a different person for each of [them].’’ When they think they have solid data in the form of Centuri’s investigative report, he proves to them that it is ambiguous (which Signora Frola was in a sanitarium?) and hints that the record may have been forged. He encourages them to bring in the wife for questioning, then laughs when her appearance complicates, rather than solves, the mystery. He acts as a raisonneur, a character who, in contrast to the others, behaves reasonably and makes sense of the messy facts; he is similar to Sherlock Holmes in this respect. He is also the alter ego of the playwright, who has fashioned a puzzle and withholds the conventional solution. His solution is a metasolution, aimed not at solving the problem, but at endowing a better appreciation for awareness itself.
Signora Nenni is another town gossip, similar to Signora Cini, who comes in toward the end of the play.
See Lamberto Laudisi
Ponza is the new secretary to the town’s prefect, recently moved to town with lodgings for himself and wife, and a separate apartment for his mother-in-law. He presents a mystery to the townspeople, because he stays away from them and keeps his wife concealed in their fifth-story apartment, yet pays daily visits to his mother-in-law without allowing her to visit his wife, her daughter. Ponza’s dark, swarthy complexion and nervous demeanor undermine his credibility, but his version of things competes well enough with Signora Frola’s version to confuse the townspeople completely. He claims that his first wife is dead, and that he keeps his deluded mother-in-law away from his second wife to protect the latter from the mother’s caresses. He claims to feign craziness as a way of soothing his mother- in-law.
Ponza’s wife appears in the very last scene, dressed in mourning, and heavily veiled in black. After Ponza and his mother-in-law stumble weeping out of the room, affected by the wife’s public appearance, Signora Ponza announces that she is daughter to Signora Frola, wife to Ponza, and to herself, ‘‘nobody.’’ This last statement throws uncertainty on everything that has been conjectured and verified about her, since it implies that she has allowed herself to be formed by others, and thus she cannot be speaking ‘‘the truth.’’ As such, she is the perfect emblem of Laudisi’s theory that every person is exactly as others perceive her to be; however she undermines even his theory too, in denying his corollary at the same time, that she is still herself.
The Prefect, Ponza’s superior, and the person of highest rank in the town, is called in to mediate the gossip crisis, which he will do by interrogating Signora Ponza himself. He is about sixty, competent, and good-natured, and perfectly confident in his ability to take charge and set things aright. However, he has to threaten Ponza with dismissal to force him to bring in his wife. Up to this point, the Prefect has trusted Ponza, but even his trust also is undermined by a surfeit of information.
A pretentious and overdressed provincial who, with his wife, gets into the thick of the gossip ring.
Signora Sirelli is a provincial gossip, young and pretty, who cannot understand Laudisi’s demonstration that she can be many things to many people. Her argument is that she is ‘‘always the same, yesterday, today, and forever!’’