Ugo Betti Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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).


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although Ugo Betti’s unusual stylistic technique was common to all the literary genres in which he engaged, his reputation rests on his plays. As a playwright he was best able to express his basically pessimistic vision of life, a vision he was increasingly able to define in his lifelong double role as a jurist and as a writer. In some of his notes, as well as in his final plays, he justified and illustrated his vision. His is a Christian pessimism, a logical precondition for that “final stage setting, for the resurrection of the soul and its reunion with its Creator.” To arrive at that teleological culmination, Betti had to cross many thresholds as he progressed, codifying his aesthetics of antinomy both in life and in art. An extraordinary fusion of harsh cruelty and childlike innocence, naturalistic plot and literary language, pessimism and hope, Betti’s dramas were subject to frequent critical misunderstanding.

When Betti’s first play, La padrona (the mistress of the house) was selected for the prize awarded by the theatrical review Le scimmie e lo specchio (the monkeys and the mirror), some of the judges were astonished to learn that the author was the same man who four years earlier had published Il re pensieroso. It is precisely the odd combination of realistic poetic images and lyric symbolism that distinguishes Betti’s finest plays.

A combative and uncompromising man, Betti himself contributed to...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)


Arnett, Lloyd A. “Tragedy in a Postmodern Vein: Ugo Betti Our Contemporary?” Modern Drama 33, no. 4 (December, 1990): 543. Provides an analysis of the postmodern aesthetic in Corruption in the Palace of Justice and Crime on Goat Island.

Licastro, Emanuele. Ugo Betti: An Introduction. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1985. A biography of Betti that provides criticism of his major works. Bibliography and index.