(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The plays Comptesse Coquette, Night of Snow, and The Little Saint are representative of the themes and attitudes most often cited in Roberto Bracco’s work: his sympathetic attitude toward human predicaments, his concern for the plight of women in his society, and his successful dramatization of character based on Freudian theory (even though he himself valued the lively presentation of life rather than what he considered the tedious solutions of philosophy or psychiatry).

Comptesse Coquette

Successfully performed as Comptesse Coquette in New York in 1907, fourteen years after its enthusiastic reception in Naples, the play comically dramatizes how Clara, the female protagonist, resolves a conflict with her husband over the right to have a lover. With its daring and risqué subject—daring, that is, for the middle-class audiences at the turn of the century—the comedy has been misinterpreted as bitter by academic critics and “frothy” by theatrical reviewers.

At marriage, the flirtatious countess has wrung the concession of having a lover from her jealous husband. When her husband mistakenly turns up where she and her would-be lover, a friend of her husband, have met, Clara boldly sends her husband away but then laughs at the other man’s attempts at seduction. When the husband returns, his jealousy stifled, she goes into the next room with him, forcing the friend to endure their happy laughter. Thus, the countess establishes comically the woman’s right to sexual freedom in marriage, but Bracco has also used comedy to affirm the value of marital fidelity by exposing the husband’s jealousy and lover’s seduction to laughter.

The play reverses the expectation of the time, that the man might have a lover but not the woman; Bracco thus dramatized what he saw as an injustice against women. Clara’s statement to her husband toward the end of the play—“I have looked and looked for the right man and in spite of myself I’ve been obliged to choose you”—does not reveal a cynical attitude toward women on Bracco’s part but rather implies that the wife, too, can receive comic justice because she has had the opportunity but has been unable to take a lover. In Una donna and Phantasms, Bracco treats women’s sexual freedom in marriage tragically, which indicates the importance of the issue to both him and his audiences.

Night of Snow

Night of Snow shows not only that Bracco’s interest in women’s condition went beyond sexual freedom in the upper classes but also that social attitudes affecting women had natural consequences for men. Critics have overlooked the fact that the men in relationships with women in Bracco’s plays are affected by what happens to the women.

Living in the tenements of Naples, the mother and lover of Salvatore, a down-and-out man with a good education, have in the past been forced into prostitution by their poverty. Although the play shows the woman as victim of the social conditions and male attitudes of the day, Salvatore is also a victim, suffering the indignities of being illegitimate. For this he is unable to forgive his mother. During the play, he irrationally refuses the money his mother has honorably begged and earned, and sends her away. She kills herself in despair.

Because the play does not resolve what happens in the relationship between Salvatore and his lover, Graziella, it is clear that the driving force of events is not what happens to women but the necessarily terrible consequences of poverty and its effect on people’s attitudes toward one another. Were Salvatore able to accept that his mother had reformed for his sake, he might have been able to see that Graziella has also given up her life of prostitution for him so that their child, which she is carrying, can be born honorably. Thus, both men and women remain the victims of social conditions, although Salvatore’s male ego could be criticized as reflecting part of the problem unfairly on the women. Before the final scene, Salvatore does resolve his bitterness and resentment toward women when he recognizes that Graziella has a just claim to the money for their child’s sake. Nevertheless, he must leave, unable to bear the...

(The entire section is 1757 words.)