The majority of Ugo Betti’s published works were written for the theater, and all but a few, including three posthumous plays, were produced during his lifetime, yet his distinctive stylistic peculiarity of juxtaposing lyric forms to stark realism in his dramas can be traced to his poetic and narrative writings.
A translation of Catullus’s poem 64 as Le nozze di Teti e Peleo (1912; the marriage of Thetis and Peleus) was the first work Betti published. Three collections of poems followed at long intervals, witness to his lifelong interest in poetry: Il re pensieroso (1922; the pensive king), Canzonette: La morte (1932; popular songs: death), and Uomo e donna (1937; man and woman). Of Betti’s three collections of short stories, the first two, Caino (1928; Cain) and Le case (1933; houses), were published within five years of each other, while the last one, Una strana serata (1948; a strange evening), as well as his only novel, La pietra alta (1948; the high mountain), appeared fifteen years later.
The playwright emerged naturally out of Betti’s poetic and fictional activities. It was as if each of his modes of translating his artistic intuition into language provided an essential element to arrive at a dramatic synthesis of his aesthetic vision. As Betti himself stated in an essay on the theater, he did not believe that “those high walls which some find it convenient to imagine between poetry, narrative, and theatre, and perhaps even the movies, really exist.”
Some of Betti’s plays were adapted for the screen, and, after winning a competition in 1939 to write for the cinema, he was able to contribute from 1941 to 1946 to several film scenarios. From 1931 to 1952, Betti also contributed a column entitled “Taccuino” (notebook) to the newspaper La gazzetta del popolo (the people’s gazette).