Six Characters in Search of an Author
A Tenuous Light: Analyzing the Creative Process Through Six Characters in Search of an Author
Pirandello’s Six Characters is a play that tries to explain the creative process to the audience. The author used his characters to personify the various stages of a playwright’s writing process, while framing the action against the convenient backdrop of the stage. His characters most closely correlate to Freud’s structure of the human psyche, focusing mainly on the unifying characteristics of the superego, ego, and id (Merkur 31). However, Pirandello never explains that his characters are allegorical, and simply presents them to the audience as creations of “the instrument of human fantasy” (Pirandello 6). He also indulged in hints of dark humor found throughout the play, which only masked the characters’ true meanings even further. The audience is left with the feeling of fragmentation, as even the Manager is unsure whether the characters are real or not. Most importantly, the one character that could make sense of it all, The Author, is maddeningly absent. Nevertheless, while the play may have been a precursor to the Theatre of the Absurd movement, it does have meaning: Six Characters in Search of an Author is an allegory for a playwright who is struggling to bring his characters to light.
Before the entrance of the Six Characters, Pirandello prepares his audience by setting the scene for a play-within-a-play. The stage is set up to give the appearance of incompleteness, a hint at the fractional nature of the play. While the Manager struggles to control his cast, the audience is allowed to glimpse the often-comedic complexity of the creative process. By the time the stage door opens to reveal the Six Characters, Pirandello has already begun to create the backdrop of uncertainty for the play. However, upon entering the stage, the character of the Father quickly works to establish a credible reason for his existence, appealing to the troupe’s artistic sensibilities. In this way, Father’s speech is directed toward the audience as much as it is meant for the other players on stage, while he positions himself as the chief narrator. First, he proposes that the characters’ existence can be explained by accepting the human psyche as an actual plane of reality, where characters are doomed to roam without purpose until given life by an Author. At this critical moment, Pirandello courts the audience’s disbelief with logical fallacy, as Father begins to construct a plausible scenario in which he may exist: “life is full of infinite absurdities, which, strangely enough, do not even need to appear plausible, since they are true” (Pirandello 5). Relying on this bit of abstract rationale, the author offers a reason for his characters’ presence. Instead, Pirandello vaguely posits that characters who have been subjugated to the realm of imagination have the “inner passion” to be written (9). Thus, while the author has taken pains to explain the appearance of the characters, with one line of dialogue he completes the play’s setting by using subterfuge rather than exposition.
With his background established, Pirandello gradually develops the plot in narrative flashes, often interrupted, as the characters recount their dramatic history. The embattled family’s depictions of the events are contradictory at best, and the conflicting perceptions seem to highlight their disjointed natures. The characters do not dispute the events themselves, but rather the motivation behind them, while the actual truth remains a mystery. Father, portrayed as a hyper-rational and philosophic narrator, most nearly resembles the superego of the human psyche. Though each character represents a stage in the creative process, Father is the foremost example of this personification. He is one of the more tenacious characters in the family’s attempt to have their story acted out, and throughout the retelling of the drama, Father incessantly defends each of his decisions with tortuous rationalization. Freud’s structure of the superego is characterized by a predominant sense of morality, and conjunctly, guilt. As the play progresses, it becomes apparent that Father, driven by both motivators, desperately wants his version of the story to be told. However, this only further ties him to the superego: “A confession not only gratifies the confessant’s wish for punishment…but in localizing guilt in one subject, it allows those who sit in judgment to displace and then satisfy their own need for punishment” (Schmeiser 333). Father’s dialogue is peppered with implications of these tendencies: “All my life I have had these confounded aspirations towards a certain moral sanity” (Pirandello 17). By indulging his moralistic affectation, Father exemplifies how, within the creative process, the superego tends to dictate the editing and manipulation of the story.
In sharp contrast to Father, Stepdaughter unquestionably portrays the id in Freud’s psychological construct. Stepdaughter is prominent for her sexual characterization, and for her unrestrained laughter. No less than six times throughout the course of the play, Stepdaughter’s hideous laughter is silenced by one of the other characters, which continues to accentuate her primal disposition, as well as her disconnection with reality. Stepdaughter consistently responds to every admonition with pained martyrdom, but still embraces the sexual tendencies that mark her allotted aspect of the psyche. Like the id, Stepdaughter is fascinated with the visual elements of the story, and frequently interrupts Father’s account with only marginally pertinent information about the visual context of the tale. Her descriptions of Madame Pace’s shop, the pale blue envelope, and her attire as a schoolgirl all point to her obsession. Unruly and unashamed, she is Father’s foremost antagonist in Six Characters. Stepdaughter consistently contradicts Father’s perception of the events, and casts doubt upon his illusion of morality. While Father rationalizes each of his motives, Stepdaughter is content to throw the whole, sordid tale before the Manager, as she casts her stepfather in a very grim light. Ultimately, she is the character who captains the action of the plot and insists on pushing forward to each new and forbidding scene.
Mother rounds out Freud’s trinity of motivators. Signifying the ego, Mother has the tendency to play the mediator between Father and Stepdaughter. She embodies emotion, filling in the details between the pretentious rationalizations and the bitter, unrestrained laughter. Mother weeps for the victims of the creative struggle, her discarded children. She is responsible for development, giving birth to new aspects of the story; as Father points out, “Her drama…lies, as a matter of fact, all in these four children” (11). Together, Stepdaughter, Mother, and Father symbolize inspiration, development and creativity in the creative process: the playwright’s Holy Trinity. However, the Manager plays a crucial role as the editor of the tale. While Father, Mother, and Stepdaughter present the raw details of the story, the Manager is tasked with organizing this stream-of-consciousness narrative into a tolerable play. The characters argue against the Manager’s edits, but he responds with a simple statement: “Truth up to a certain point, but no further” (51). At the abrupt conclusion of the play, it becomes obvious that without the edits of the Manager, this story is a senseless mess. Nevertheless, the characters arrive in search of an Author, and not a manager. At Father’s insistence that the Manager become the Author, the Manager replies, “I have never been an author” (26). Regardless, the Manager tries to put the characters’ action in writing, but is hopelessly confused without the inspiration and guidance of the Author.
The absence of an Author in the play is significant because it is the greatest indicator of the play’s allegorical intentions. According to Father, it seems that their Author struggled with their story, and ultimately gave up: “the author who created us alive no longer wished, or was no longer able, materially to put us into a work of art” (8). Thus, the characters may present themselves, carrying their drama with them, and the Manager may try to edit the pieces of the story into cohesion, but without the Author, it is unclear whether any part of the creative process is pretense or reality. The Author’s absence could be metaphorical; a suggestion that the Author’s imagination has stalled. The imagination, “the instrument of human fantasy,” is the portal that connects the Author to his characters, and vice versa. This is why the characters have grown impatient with the Author, and arrive on the stage searching for “any author” (5). Since the Author has failed to write his characters alive, their story is fragmented, like forgotten ideas that still exist in the Author’s subconscious. From the allegorical perspective—with the stage representing the Author’s mind, and the characters acting as separate aspects of his psyche—these ideas could “exist,” waiting for an Author to complete them. Thus, the characters’ story seems unfinished and condensed, just as they are, while the most pivotal moments are played out in vivid detail. This theme of fragmentation is highlighted by the confusion expressed at several key points in the play by the Manager and Actors.
Pirandello’s conclusion to the play, when taken at face value, seems pointless and absurd. However, through the lens of allegory, it appears that Pirandello’s Author would never return to finish writing his characters. The Manager’s dismissive line, “Pretense? Reality? To hell with it all!” (72) echoes the Author’s disillusionment with the creative process, and indicates that he has given up on his characters, ultimately failing in his struggle to bring his characters to light. This failure is not without some internal protest: Father, the dominant voice for the characters, cries out, “Reality sir, reality!” (72). The simple exchange of dialogue in the midst of violent commotion is what gives the play a discernable ending: the allegory concludes with the Author abandoning his characters and snuffing out their tenuous light of existence.
Merkur, Dan. Explorations of the Psychoanalytic Mystics. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Editions Rodopi, 2010. PsycINFO. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.
Pirandello, Luigi. Six Characters in Search of an Author. Translated by Edward Storer. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1922. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.
Schmeiser, Susan R. “Romancing the Family.” Harvard Journal of Law & Gender 33, (2010): 327-337. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.
An Existentialist Reality: Pirandello’s Six Characters
Every decision, every breath one takes, and every step one ever walks brings one closer to a single goal — to find the meaning of life. The summation of one’s decisions, steps, and movements through life shapes one’s individual existence and leads to proliferation of the damning idea of finding that sense of meaning. For many, this pursuit is never realized, and to others, the entire idea of successfully finding the meaning of the deep, dark mystery of life might be impossible. Despite this skepticism, many search for meaning in daily events, attempting to find the overall meaning of life. In Six Characters in Search of an Author, actors attempt to run through a Pirandello production, but the value comes from the lessons they learn. The actors and characters in Six Characters in Search of an Author display a yearning to find the meaning of life, but descend into a darkened existentialist state when faced with the crushing realization of the world around them, as Pirandello tries to point readers down a different path in life.
Throughout the play, those in it try and find meaning from their daily actions to shed deeper light on the greater meaning of life. If they thought that their daily actions were to be meaningless, they would surely descend into a darkened mental state, so it is crucial for them to attempt to acquire knowledge of life from their mundane and minute actions of the day. Firstly, consider the director. His job is to orchestrate the play, to ensure its success, and that all the actors fulfill their roles adequately. It is in his management of the actors that he gets a sense of meaning, not only in his job, but in life as a whole. In that regard, he enjoys doing his line of work, and relishes the satisfaction he gets from what he does. He continuously meddles in the performance of the actors, because to him, that meddling is what gives him power, and thus, a sense of meaning. The actors, in general, try to make some sense out the play they are putting on, and give themselves some meaning. To accurately portray the characters of the play, it is necessary for the actors to understand these characters themselves. Therefore, they struggle, but persist to try and find their own meaning in the words they speak and the actions they undertake in the play. As the father says on page 12, “You have created living beings — more alive than those who breathe and wear clothes! Less real, but perhaps more true” (Pirandello 12).
Next, this search to find meaning from daily life can be seen in the actions of the father, step-daughter, mother and son as well. The father is perhaps the best example of this search for knowledge of life having meaning. He is pretty unsure over what to make of life, as seen through when he sent his wife and daughter away (17). Especially after his run-in with his step-daughter at Madame Pace’s shop, his life is continuously tossed around and upside-down. The father offers up deeper, more philosophical takes on what the play itself is about, or what the actions of the actors and the characters mean. His consistent philosophical anecdotes indicate a desire to find deeper knowledge (28). The step-daughter too seeks this knowledge. Exploited but vivacious, the step-daughter is perhaps the character that seems the most confused about where they are in life and where they are going. In the actor troupe, she tends to stir the pot and cause others to question why things happen, in accordance with her own questioning. The mother is constantly in grief, searching for a solution to cure her dismal existence. It is clear that she is not content with life, and goes through the motions day-in and day-out, yearning for the day that she might find true meaning that will free her from her despair and sadness that she carries with her on a daily basis. She seems to be constantly tortured by something as simple as her past and her existence, and her grief can really be pinpointed when the step-daughter and the father share their experience in Madame Pace’s shop (16). Just like the mother, the son is unhappy, specifically with his role in the play. He yearns for more, for a deeper existence, as he tends to have a rather facile role within the play. As he yearns for more, he yearns for a purpose for to his acting, even if he does not actively have it.
Lastly, when the characters inevitably fail to acquire they knowledge they search for, their lives spiral down an existentialist path to a deeper, darker trance, offering a cautionary tale. The director is clearly a part of this descent. As the set turns into chaos, the director’s own sanity seems to descend as well. He continually berates members of the cast for not meeting his expectations, and generally loses control of his own emotions. His own purpose in directing the play, and the authority he has over the actors is put into question. Without this, he freaks out, eventually ending the production in a fit of rage. In general, the actors begin to go wild at the end of play. They run around in a sense of mayhem, challenging nearly everything the director says, with their own performances offering no consolation. The father specifically begins to sink deeper and deeper in an existentialist state, feeling the meaningless nature of life and feeling like a pawn in a chess game. He continues to ponder the philosophical nature of things, questioning the meaning of life. He begins to even take on a rather nihilistic view, openly disparaging aspects of the world around him (62). The step-daughter escalates her theatrics to obscene levels. She hands on the end of every word, threatening to break into tears or create drama at the drop of a feather. The performance overcomes her, and given that she has not found anything of value from the play, she demands attention to keep her relevance (68). The mother, too, creates a scene. After the dramatic events at the end of the play, she continues on her dismal way, crying consistently. She questions the meaning of life, in light of the recent events, and her negative view on life is evident. Lastly, the son freaks out about his lines (or lack thereof) and how he is representing the author’s interests. He cares about this to a considerable degree, almost to the point of violence. His descent into anger from his existentialist sate is fueled by the lack of concrete intention by the author. In assigning his own meaning to the play, he places his own value in it, to become emotionally connected.
Six Characters in Search of an Author displays a cautionary tale. Pirandello demonstrates the search for meaning in life, demonstrated by the characters, especially in the way of the father and the step-daughter. The characters try and find meaning from their performances in the play, but they do not find what they seek. Pirandello offers a cautionary tale, as the characters fall into states of contemplating life with dark, grim views. The play warns readers not to fall into the same traps as the characters, and shows that failing to find the knowledge that is sought after will lead to a dismal, sad existence. Overall, the play shows a descent into a darkened existentialist state.
Characters and Characteristics; Exploring Fiction and Reality in Pirandello
Pablo Picasso, father of cubism and pioneer of neo-expressionism, immortal in his fame, once said, “Everything you can imagine is real”. To the layperson, Picasso’s notion may smack of enigmatic evasiveness; the transcendence of reality is not easy to conceptualize. To playwright Luigi Pirandello, however, these words are representative of an absolute truth. In his play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, Pirandello tests this relationship between fiction and reality using the ‘Verismo’ style of writing. There is a thin line drawn between the six characters, who acknowledge themselves as such, purely creations of the writer, and the ‘actors’, not meant to be characters at all but instead a representation of actuality, of true people easily confused with those seated in the audience. And while it is true that everyone depicted within the play is intrinsically a character of Pirandello’s, these characters are separated into two distinct groups: those representative of characters and those representative of true people. In attempting to differentiate these two groups, Pirandello gives the Characters masks, so that their singularity of emotion and individual objectives are visible throughout the play. He also portrays the actors and those associated with the actors as being very tangible representations of true people; due to the nature of ‘Verismo’ writing, the audience is meant to become genuinely confused at the presence of ‘true people’ on the stage, a space traditionally reserved for the progression of fictive events. However, over the course of the play it becomes increasingly apparent that, despite attempts to separate the two groups, everyone depicted in the play falls under Pirandello’s definition of a Character: one with an “immutable reality” (Pirandello, 61). As the tragedy unfolds, the lines between characters and actors, between fiction and reality, become blurred. Though it appears that Pirandello has taken great pains to separate the representations of what is real from the representations of what is not, the separate depictions of the actors and Characters and the subsequent mixing of roles reveal a sub-textual commentary on the false nature of all those portrayed within the play, whether fictive or real, and the implications of this notion of falsity in regards to human nature. In the beginning of the work, a foundation is laid to allow the audience to view the distinguishing qualities of the Characters throughout the play; this work has often been interpreted as Pirandello’s attempt to reveal the characteristics essential to the character. However, it is my impression that he defines the character in such depth in order to question the characteristics essential to the actual person. The contrast in the primary depictions of the Characters and actors creates a juxtaposition of fiction and reality that is called into question later in the work. From the first time the Characters appear on stage, they are depicted as physically and internally separate from actual people. As the Character of the Father puts it, they are “more alive than those who breathe and wear clothes! Less real, perhaps; but more true!” (12). Though these Characters are ‘alive’, they are not alive in the same sense as the actual person; unlike real people, the Characters have no freedom of choice and are therefore condemned to the perpetual repetition of a single reality. This limitation is portrayed in the Characters’ conversations with the actors, and the use of masks and character descriptions within the text. The actors, however, are portrayed as a representation of reality; nothing of their basic descriptions or actions would lead the audience to believe that they are anything other than accurate representations of Pirandello’s time. The clothes, the set, the casual dialogue and the seeming spontaneity of their actions give every impression of a quotidian reality. However, an undeniable stereotypic quality becomes increasingly apparent with the progression of the work. From practically the first scene, the Director is the epitome of serious theatrical management: authoritative, frustrated and demanding. Even more extreme is the depiction of the Leading Lady, the manifestation of haughtiness, conceit, and self- importance. This contradiction of reality and impracticality is noteworthy; though it does not change the fact that the actors are representative of actual people, the inconsistency that is established soon becomes an important theme throughout the play.Though the Characters and actors are initially portrayed as contrasting representations of fiction and reality, their roles begin to mix as the story progresses, purpose and objective are confused between the two categories, and the concept of free will is called into question. First, there is the fundamental problem of the established roles; the fact that both the Characters and the actors are all essentially characters of Pirandello’s, and that all the characters (Characters and actors) are portrayed by actual actors, creates a contradiction to the singularity of objective established earlier in the play. Also, the Characters begin to take on ‘real’ qualities as the actors become increasingly one-faceted, a trait originally reserved for the fictive Characters. This confusion of roles, of fiction and reality, finally reveals the false nature of all the characters and actors portrayed in Pirandello’s work. When the Characters first enter the piece, they not only have individual objectives, but also a collective objective; they must find an author. Here begins the mixing of roles. The director is the first called upon to exchange his stereotypical authoritative role for one with greater creative significance, that of the author. The next group called upon to exchange their roles is the Characters; the author/director, still demanding, orders them to take the stage and rehearse their story, and so the Characters become their own actors. Meanwhile, the actors are studying the Characters so that they may take over their roles and become Characters on the stage. However, when the roles are reverted back to their original state, no one is satisfied to play the part they were originally intended, and only the actors remain constant in their singularity of objective. The Characters refuse to accept the actors’ interpretation of their story; as the Stepdaughter exclaims, “I want to play my drama. Mine!” (53). The director, also, leaves his role again to approach the stage as an actor and demonstrate the proper reenactment of the story. It is only the actors that remain completely constant in their stereotype and in their singular objective to act. Through this transcendence of roles, it not only becomes apparent that the line between fiction and reality is perhaps not as clear as it originally seemed, but also that the actors become more like characters than the Characters themselves.As the Characters become more persistent in their desire to have control over their story and its actualization, the actors begin to seem less like representations of the actual and more like fictive characters. In fact, by the end of the play, it is not the Characters that have what the Father calls an “immutable reality” (61), but the actors. The Characters leave changed, there are two less Characters among them once the play has been completed. The actors, however, leave the same as they began, with the director declaring the day “lost” (73) and agreeing that they will continue their rehearsals the next day as though nothing significant had passed over the course of the play. Though the Father tells the Director that the difference between the two of them is that the Director’s “reality can change overnight” (61), his reality does not change overnight, he will continue his life as though nothing has changed, as though he lives in an immutable reality, the life of a character. Perhaps it would be prudent of the reader to look not at the lines drawn between fiction and reality, but of the mixing of the two. If at the end of the play, the actors, the representation of actuality, seem more to be representations of fiction, what does that say about actual people? Perhaps Pirandello is actually commenting on the extent to which all ‘actual people’ are born as characters. Maybe we are all overly occupied with waiting for an author, an actor, a stage; perhaps the falsification of all the characters is meant to show that there is no author, no stage, no one else to play our roles for us. Perhaps this play is truly a statement about people who do not take advantage of there free will, but instead live an immutable reality, stuck in the same job, the same role day in and day out. And so I propose we heed Pirandello’s advice; it is time to stop searching for an author, and write our own plays.
Who Are We?
In the play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, Luigi Pirandello presents a humanistic worldview. The assertion is made repeatedly that we, as humans, can define who we are, that our actions dictate our character. This view is presented in two contexts. First of all, it is illustrated in the lives of the characters. The characters’ lives and actions are predetermined by an author; therefore, who they are cannot change, although their identity is still defined by these constant actions. The second context that the humanistic worldview is presented in is through the lives of the actors. They are, just like the characters, defined by what they do. However, their reality, or who they are, can change. As the Father says to the Manager, “This you as you feel it today all this present reality of yours is fated to seem a mere illusion to you tomorrow” (44).No matter which context the humanistic worldview is illustrated in, the premise that our humanity is defined by our actions is wrong from a Christian perspective. What we do does not determine who we are; rather, who we are determines what we do. All of the actions that Christians take should stem from their identity as children of God. When we accept Christ as Savior, we acknowledge who we are and what we were created to be. That is, we recognize that our purpose is to glorify God and to serve Him, and once we concede this, all of our actions will follow naturally. Our actions, whether good or bad, can never alter our fundamental identity as a child of God.Those still living in sin, however, remain in the illusion presented in Pirandello’s work. They define themselves by what they do, whether that be in the form of a job, a relationship, or “good works.” They are forced to uphold the idea that these things determine who they are because the only other option is to face the uncomfortable reality of their sinful conditions and future in hell. Pirandello alludes to this truth while discussing the necessity of the transitory reality of the actors. “Illusions of reality represented in this fatuous comedy of life that never ends, nor can ever end! Because if tomorrow it were to end…then why, all would be finished” (44). They must retain the pretense of reality.Salvation, then, frees us from the necessity to uphold a pretense of reality through our actions because we understand and accept the true reality of who we are meant to be. We are no longer slaves to sin, works, and their definition of our identity in the present or our course for the future. Our identity and future are set, and from this our actions proceed.The preceding statements show that the manner in which both the characters and the actors define their humanness is wrong. They also help us understand the conflict of Pirandello’s characters. They cannot see beyond the illusion of their own actions to understand the source of their tragedy. For example, the Father constantly complains how the other characters do not understand him as he really is; they see him only as he appears in one action. The Step-daughter only views him through the scene where he solicits her as a prostitute. “She now seeks to attach to me a reality such as I could never suppose I should have to assume for her in a shameful and fleeting moment of my life” (16). His statements are invalid, however, in light of the previous discussion. His problem lies not in the fact that others incorrectly define him by one action, but rather in the fact that he is defined by his actions at all. The “reality” of him in the Step-daughter’s eyes is not the true reality of who he should be but only an illusion of sin, which leaves him incapable of seeing his true identity. He is forced to focus on himself and his actions.The character of the Father illustrates most clearly the humanistic worldview presented by Pirandello; however, at times he also presents the opposing Christian view. Pirandello, through his work, seems to suggest that the way the actors and the characters live is not right. For as the Father says in critique of his own existence, “Thus, sir, you see when faith is lacking, it becomes impossible to create certain states of happiness, for we lack the necessary humility. Vaingloriously, we try to substitute ourselves for this faith, creating thus for the rest of the world a reality which we believe after their fashion, while, actually, it doesn’t exist” (18). This statement sums up the irony of the worldview presented in the play, that someone could so clearly state the true reality and yet be too absorbed in pretense to actualize it in life.Work CitedPirandello, Luigi. Six Characters in Search of an Author. Trans. Edward Storer. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 1998.
Deconstructing the Stage: Circles of Conflict in Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author
Pirandello delights by surprising. It has been widely noted how his radically experimental play Six Characters In Search of an Author — the first in his ‘theatre in the theatre trilogy’ —proved to bring about a paradigmatic shift in the modern stage for a plethora of reasons, only a few of which can be substantiated here. Indeed, so much of critical attention perhaps has made the play eclipse other works of equal consequence by the author. Besides, it has been lamented how, with time, Pirandello’s aspect of “cerebrality” gained way greater currency among admirers than his strong undercurrents of humor, partly due to inadequate English translations, and partly due to inaccurate interpretations from faulty staging (Bassnett-McGuire 28). The formal deconstruction of the stage, however, is a pervasive theme in Six Characters, in connection with which, a series of other functions of fragmentation in general are linked to form a chain of operative absurdities that whet our curiosity with continual surprises and urge the audience to probe the entire concept of stage reality anew. Even a cursory glance at the opening stage directions reveals a certain willingness on the author’s part to lay stress on the process of theatricality which even the play’s subtitle, “a comedy in the making”, betokens. This process, entailing a conscious disintegration of the theater, becomes a source of new freedom for art (Bloom 63). Such a dramatic mise en abyme explores a broad spectrum of discursive possibilities. When the curtain — that traditionally separated the illusion played out on the stage from the reality of the audience sitting in front — is made to fall “accidentally”, the conception of such a moment presages other remarkably radical moments in twentieth century theater that renders the stage an extension of reality where life and art converge.
Authoritative plot structure rendered a far cry, all we are left with is an author reluctant to let his creations be concretized; characters without authorial control; a text that lacks as well as desires an author. A failed authorship is thematized by the baffled Manager who is tempted to assume the capacity of the play’s director only to be swept aside by the six Characters’ obsessive impulse to tell the truth as it happened rather than put up a representation suitable for the stage. But what truth do they tell and how far is their claim to autonomy justifiable? A study of the 1925 essay by Pirandello, which has since then been added as a ‘preface’ to the play, hardly leads to any conclusive illumination other than farther vindicating the play’s unflinching adherence to ambiguity. Pirandello in his essay confesses his inability to assign a philosophical core to his “characters”, and as an afterthought, after a series of dramatized nagging by the Father and Stepdaughter to be staged and immortalized, he decides to give them a “fake passport” (Illiano 7) as it were, i.e., to represent them as rejected and unfinished — their state as such is to be their meaning. They are in limbo, and that is their a priori meaning.
When the titular “six characters”, presented generically as the Father, the Stepdaughter, the Mother, the Son, the Boy and the Girl, barges into a scene of an ongoing rehearsal of a Pirandello play called The Rules of the Game, and the typically talkative Father proclaims that “The drama is in us, and we are the drama. We are impatient to play it. Our inner passion drives us on to this” (Pirandello, Six Characters 17) to the great scorn and amusement of other actors, some chord is struck in us whereby a self-reflexive identification takes place. The Father and the Stepdaughter’s fragmented cyclical narrative of self-justifications and accusations enact the futility of our everyday efforts at communication — one need not go far looking for “drama”: drama is where conflict is, and life never runs short of the latter. The drama, for the Father, lies in his awareness that the self is always inconsistent and ever-changing, full of contraries that share a relationship of conflict. Conflict between contraries, for example, can be located as Pirandello’s forma mentis: the sentiment of the contrary as the essence of true humor (Illiano 9), where appearances deceive and an apparently ludicrous troupe of characters may hide traumatic pathos sporadically spurting out from among lighter moments of laughter.
Susan Bassnett-McGuire notes how the division between the Characters and the others in continually reiterated. She simplifies and unpacks this conflict to some extent when she comments that the “attempts in section II of the Actors to take on the roles of the Father and Stepdaughter illustrate the impossibility of art representing life, while the confusion that follows the apparent death of the children, when the Actors and the Manager fail to agree on the reality of what they have seen, testifies to the power of art” (36). When it is already insinuated that life is art, the question of representation to which Susan alludes can arise only as a fallacy. Pirandello adds on to the humorous quotient by weaving into his narrative elements of self-critique that are half-comic and half in earnest. The so-called wooden characters, for creating whom dramatists all around the globe have for so long been excoriated by so many, are unabashedly paraded here by Pirandello. The weeping Mother is given hardly any other role apart from, well, weeping, and the Actors stand for most of the time like dumb spectators. Directors face problems with a cast of characters that does not seem to do anything as such and here there is no shortage of such characters as pretty much everyone else save the Father, the Stepdaughter, and the Manager, mostly remain mum. The travesty is accentuated by feckless comments by the Manager such as “Oh, we’ll cut him out. You’ve no notion what a nuisance boys are on the stage …” (Pirandello, Six Characters 31) after the Father painstakingly and loquaciously describes the Boy’s position in their family. It is not clear who is more of a nuisance on the stage, a Boy or such a callous director in a rehearsal.
The Son, on the other hand, is a thoroughly alienated blocking character who does not for once show any interest to be staged, but neither can he leave the stage. His quandary has been interestingly recognized as a foretaste of the situations in which Beckett’s tramps find themselves (Bassnett-McGuire 44). Despite there being opposing evidences, it is an easy and commonplace practice, however, in productions of the play, to portray the Manager and his troupe of Actors as over-acting and unnatural while stressing the naturalness of the six Characters’s state of being. But Pirandello did not want to make things so simple. Instead, in order to make the Characters appear “more real and consistent than the changeable naturalness of the actors” Pirandello suggested the use of masks and other stage devices such as lighting, so that the Characters stand out in their stylization instead of their naturalization (Bassnett-McGuire 37). Any notion of consistency, it is implied, ought to assume by default, an overtly imposed mask of uniformity. Such an implication deconstructs the very notion of ‘natural acting’ as an oxymoronic paradox, a misnomer. Adding to the complexity of Pirandello’s dramaturgy, we have Madame Pace — who is not one of the six Characters — conjured up miraculously as if by magic charm when her absence is felt. Eric Bentley suggests, that if the play be conceived of as many concentric circles of drama, “Madame Pace might well be the innermost circle: play within play within play within play” (64).
What all these theatricality play out is actually nothing but the relationships among the members of a family, though almost the entire story is narrated (save for the scene in Madame Pace’s and the climactic deaths by drowning in the fountain and the suicide) instead of being actually played out. Evidently, propelling the play’s action, the Father is the story’s prime mover, mouthpiece, advocate and challenger (Bassanese 118). It is his desire to free himself from allegations of being a bad husband, incestuous parent, and a debilitated father-figure, that drives him to tell his story. His philosophizing exasperates both the audience as well as the Manager, and acts like an additional mask of rational self-justifications. His masks epitomize the world of “make-believe” that the stage really is; where nothing is real; where “it’s better to imagine . . . because if they fix it up for you, it’ll only be painted cardboard”; where “the make-up will remedy” all lacks (Pirandello, Six Characters 35-41). If it is a play where masks are to be deployed for creating desired effects, it also ensures that the answer to the key questions it raises is also masked in layers of circumlocution. The answer, if any, is relegated to relativity of perception, consciousness, experience, and belief. Responding to the double-deaths towards the end, it comes as no surprise that the climax will be reached only when some actors exclaim “He’s dead! He’s dead!” while others immediately complement it with “No, no, it’s only make believe, it’s only pretence!” as, torn between these two extremes, the Manager is hard put to decide between “pretence” and “reality” (Pirandello, Six Characters 72). His exasperation at not being able to decipher the happenings might as well creep into the audience. Trying to decipher the underlying meaning of such a text as this one evinces manifestly how hermeneutics is by definition an endless exercise.
At every step, Pirandello reminds the audience of the futility of certainties; in this regard, it is an intensely self-conscious text. Finally, it is interesting to note, that despite glaringly flouting all dramatic norms, the play closely adheres to the unities of time and place. This adherence has ironic potential in solemnly observing such age-old strictures and yet casually subverting them to leave us floating in space-time coordinates that are necessarily relative. The multi-layered texture of the play with constantly colliding strands of competing illusions and realities celebrates an “unconcluded and unconcluding plurality” (Illiano 3) that ultimately leaves edifices built from all commonplace assumptions in ruins. Pirandello suddenly changes the tone of the scene after Madame Pace’s surreal apparition, and shows the audience his “imagination in the act of creating, as though [his imagination] were a kind of stage” (Pirandello, “Pirandello Confesses” 49). Life infiltrates the stage, and “since it receives the imagined reality of the six characters, [the stage] does not exist of itself as a fixed and immutable fact, just as nothing in the play exists in advance — everything is actually in the making, everything about it moves and changes, always impromptu, always tentative” (Pirandello, “Pirandello Confesses” 50). Fiercely tempting as it is to not conclude so, the play is not at all free from authorial control, and it is a “search” always already straddling what is immediately found and the consequent sense of dissatisfaction with the finding. Despite acknowledging this, the play’s salient strands of Absurdist elements, surrealist undertones, incipient notions of automatic writing, the profound questions regarding life and art that it poses, and the immense influence of all these on the twentieth-century Modernist stage in Europe, can hardly be overstated in the final reckoning.
Balakian Anna. “Anna Balakian on Surrealism in Pirandello’s Drama.” Luigi Pirandello, ed. Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 2003, pp. 59-64.
Bassanese, Fiora A. Understanding Luigi Pirandello. University of South Carolina Press, 1997. Bassnett-McGuire, Susan. Luigi Pirandello. The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1983.
Bentley, Eric. “Father’s Day: In Search of 6 Characters in Search of an Author.” The Drama Review: TDR, vol. 13, no. 1, 1968, pp. 57–72. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1144434.
Illiano, Antonio. “Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author: A Comedy in the Making.” Italica, vol. 44, no. 1, 1967, pp. 1–12. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/477418.
Pirandello, Luigi. Six Characters in Search of an Author. Trans. Edward Storer, E. P. Dutton, 1922.
Pirandello, Luigi. “Pirandello Confesses… Why and How He Wrote ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author.’” The Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 1, no. 1, 1925, pp. 36–52. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/26434341.
Evolution or a Brand New Species?: Determining the Limits to Which Authors Can Challenge Conventions of Theater
The nature of evolution is change, continuous instances of reaction to what has come before. Therefore, literary history is defined by change as well. The great authors are those who questioned the accepted conventions of their time and altered them in a way that later became the norm. In some cases such questioning simply altered an existing form, but at times it has led to the creation of an entirely new genre or form of literature.Exemplary of this is the rise of the novel, a form which came into definite existence within the past few centuries. In the early phases of its development it was often viewed as a bastard child of other forms of prose, inferior to and destructive of, “purer” forms rather than as a viable option itself. Over time, however, it has become a respected and exceedingly popular literary form in its own right. Similarly, within the past several centuries authors have begun to question the conventions of theater to a degree to which they had not previously been challenged. It is even arguable that such reactionary theater at times goes beyond traditional convention to the point where it can no longer be considered theater itself.Six Characters in Search of Author, by Luigi Pirandello, is exemplary of this. The play begins with a rehearsal for another play, complete with all the actors, the director, the prompter, and the technicians. Soon, however, they are interrupted by six characters searching for an author to write their story into a script. Eventually the director agrees, convincing the characters to act out scenes from their story so that his actors can rehearse them. There prove to be far more difficulties with transferring them to theater than had been expected, however. In many ways, Six Characters seems like a staged critique of theater, even an outright attack on it. It lays the artificiality of the theater completely bare, not only revealing at various times all of the tricks employed to mimic reality – lights, set, rehearsal – but even drawing the audience’s attention to the impossibility of theater to accomplish its supposed goal. Theater is meant to mimic real life. Real life, however, is full of implausibilities, ones that humanity accepts without a quibble because they are true. In theater, however, everyone involved must toil endlessly in order to convince the audience that what they are portraying is plausible and, therefore, a convincing semblance of reality. Theater, therefore, is madness, and those who participate in it mad. The Father character explains this to the Director, thereby exposing it to the audience as well. When the Director angrily asks him, “So then, our profession is for crazy people, according to you?” he answers, “Sure, to make what is not true appear true without a need to do so: a kind of game” (Pirandello 12).The ability of theater to show real life becomes even more impossible because of the individualized nature of existence. In reality there is no author determining which bits of whose lives are significant. In reality each person experiences life completely differently from everyone else, and for him or her different occurrences have differing degrees of importance and meaning. Therefore, to put on a play is to rearrange the reality of every character. When the Stepdaughter characters tries to leave the theater, upset that her greatest moment will not make the script the Director is writing, he tells her,I’m sorry to have to tell you that yours is not the only part…You can’t have a character invading the scene and becoming so dominant that he overpowers the others. All of them have to be contained in a harmonious framework and then act out what is actable. I too am well aware of the fact that everyone has his own interior life which he would like to bring out into the open. But the difficulty is precisely this: to bring out into the open only what is important in reference to the others; and at the same time reveal through that little bit all of that unrevealed interior life! (Pirandello 49)Therefore, Pirandello shows the audience the extreme folly of the very concept of theater. It is not simply that it can never properly reflect reality but that it is, in fact, nothing like reality at all. Yet, at the same time, he explains to them what it is about theater that draws people. It is not that the audience sees reality on stage but that they see something more true and more meaningful. This construction of supposed reality around a central plot gives life and the humans who live it order and purpose. The Father character explains to the Director that “A character…can always ask a man who he is. Because a character truly has a life of his own, marked by his own characteristics, because of which he is always ‘someone’. On the other hand, a man…can be ‘nobody’” (Pirandello 55). Audiences are comforted by theater’s depictions of life as something logical and true, peopled by humans with stable identities and clear purposes, but it is simply a façade.So can Six Characters in Search of an Author still be considered theater? The entire work is devoted to deconstructing both the physical and conceptual elements of theater, with the all the dialogue of the play centring on the philosophical dispute between the characters and “real” people. The author even stipulates that the actors playing the “real” people should be called by their real names instead of providing character names for them, and they are the only ones instructed to improvise at times, allowing them to present themselves as much as possible rather than characters. Then too, he does not respect the space of the stage, constantly breaching the imaginary boundary between actors and audience by having characters run through the aisles and enter and exit through the literal doors of the theater, the ones which lead outside.Therefore, it could not be any less theater without being clearly something else entirely. Yet, for all its reflexivity, it does have characters, action, a script, a set, lighting, rehearsal, costumes, a ticket booth, two acts to allow for intermission, and it is very entertaining. The story which the characters have to relay is dramatic, charged with an Oedipal sexual tension, and the interaction between the Director, actors, and characters is fascinating. Therefore, despite its biting meta-theater, it must be concluded that it remains theater itself. It is perhaps akin to Alexander Pope’s “On Critical Theory.” Though extremely self-reflexive in discussing the proper construction of poetry, and though it may in some ways be considered a hybrid between poetry and critical theory, it cannot be denied that it is, itself, a poem as well. Therefore, in the same way, though Six Characters in Search of an Author is very much a work of critical theory, it is simultaneously a very good play.Upon reaching such a conclusion about Six Characters, it seems pre-determined that Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot would qualify as theater as well. Unlike in Six Characters, the actors in Godot do not breach the fourth wall. Also unlike in Six Characters, the word “theater” is not used once in Godot. Though the play questions conventions of theater, it does so mainly by example, by presenting a play which does not conform to such conventions, rather than through direct philosophical argument. The action in the play consists of two men, Estragon and Vladimir, waiting under a tree for Godot to come. In each act two other men, Pozzo and Lucky, happen to venture by their tree and interact with Vladimir and Estragon for several minutes before once again departing. At the end of each act, a boy appears to let Vladimir and Estragon know that Godot is not coming.This is the entirety of the action that occurs in the play. There is no tight plot or even continuous thread of conversation topic that moves the play forward, and the beginning and end are indefinite. Nor does it provide deep character sketches or even witty repartee. The characters are quite cartoonish and child-like, while their dialogue often seems completely nonsensical. By contemporary conventional standards, it is appalling. Martin Esslin explains in “Introduction: The Absurdity of the Absurd,” “Inevitably, plays written in this new convention will, when judged by the standards and criteria of another, be regarded as impertinent and outrageous postures” (27). Therefore the majority of the well-educated rejected Godot when it was first put on. It was too alien, departing too far from their conventional vision of theater.Over time, however, the elite came to recognize the theater of the absurd as highly intellectual and deemed it something one must be well-educated to fully appreciate. Yet when presented to the inmates at a prison in San Francisco, it was understood immediately. Not only did the men enjoy the play, but they recognized the symbolic meaning of Godot and the desperate actions of the waiting men. Esslin writes that this surprising reception occurred “perhaps because they were unsophisticated enough to come to the theatre without any preconceived notions and ready-made expectations, so that they avoided the mistake that trapped so many established critics, who condemned the play for its lack of plot, development, characterization, suspense, or plain common sense” (27). Therefore, though Waiting for Godot questioned conventions of theater, it is not a departure from theater itself but simply from the contemporary style of theater to which it was a reaction. When presented outside the culture that established such conventions it is a successful piece of theater, as it is in today’s culture.Of the three authors here discussed, Brecht, despite the fact that he is both famous and infamous for his radical theories, is perhaps the easiest to reconcile as remaining within the defining limits of theater. Since the publication of his works, he has become a seminal literary figure, calling for theater that breaks the audience’s suspension of disbelief, thereby forcing them to examine the intellectual issues raised by each play rather than simply being swept along by the suspense and emotion of them. According to Brecht, theater must challenge the intellect of the audience, creating through this “alienation effect” sufficient distance from the world of the play that audience members are forced to use their critical faculties and reach their own conclusions concerning the issues raised by the performances.One way in which Brecht realizes this is his use of masks in the tradition of oriental theater. Unaccustomed as Western audiences are to such masks, they appear strange and highly artificial, thereby enhancing audience member’s recognition of the play as artificial and creating an emotional and intellectual distance from the plight of the characters. Another technique is frequent direct address. For example, the characters often address the audience in the middle of their dialogue with another character. This sometimes happens at the height of a tense situation, thereby slowing down the action in order to force the audience to consider the intellectual issues at work beneath the emotional turmoil.For example, in one scene Yang Sun’s mother appears and says to the audience, “I must describe to you how the wisdom and discipline of our universally respected Mr. Shi Ta turned my son Sun from a broken wreck into a useful citizen” (Brecht 83). This has a startling effect on audiences. Though characters in earlier plays had often had internal dialogue with themselves aloud, Brecht here allows every character, not just a narrator as mediator, to see the audience and speak directly to them. Audiences are used to participating in the assumption that they are seeing a window into reality and, therefore, the characters are unaware of their existence. Here, however, rather than the characters as the object of the audience’s gaze, the audience becomes trapped within the gaze of the characters as well and is forced to realize their own participation in the horror and unfairness of life as portrayed by The Good Woman of Szechwan.Therefore, fourth wall is breached, but only conceptually. The actors physically remain on the stage. There is also a quickly moving plot with plenty of action, and the characters are given depth. Therefore, Brecht’s work remains an enjoyable piece of theater and is all the more stimulating for its unconventional techniques which force rational consideration of itself upon its audiences.Perhaps the only play here discussed that is truly crafted in a way that it may not be considered theater is Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. This is because, rather than simply questioning contemporary traditions of writing and acting, it defies the most basic principles that have defined the concept of theater throughout history. There is only one character and nothing that can be described as a plot. A man simply sits and listens to a recording of himself at a younger age, occasionally interjecting. Even the story of his life as told by his younger and older selves is heavily fragmented and difficult to follow. The majority of the sentences are incomplete. Its theatrical value appears to reside in the beauty of the words and its ability to convey the emotion of loss.In almost every way, then, Krapp’s Last Tape seems to have more in common with a dramatic poetry reading than a play. Perhaps the only difference is that the man on stage, rather than appearing as the author and narrator, instead appears in order to attempt to embody the character whose life is displayed through the words. It is the character rather than the narrator speaking. Yet many modern lyrics have no narrator outside the character from whose perspective the poem is written. Indeed, it would seem one can only conclude that in Krapp’s Last Tape the conventions of theater are finally questioned so far that the “play” is not theater at all. It may be considered drama if there is a distinction to be made. Theater, however, it is not. Therefore, while it is possible to challenge convention to an astonishing degree while remaining within the framework of theater itself, as demonstrated in Six Characters in Search of an Author, and, to a lesser degree, in Waiting for Godot, and The Good Woman of Szechwan, there is a point at which such a challenge is forced outside theater itself in order to do so. One such point is Krapp’s Last Tape.