Six Characters

“Six Characters in Search of An Author” asked the question, can fictional characters be more authentic than real persons, and what is the relationship between imaginary characters and the writer, who has created them.

A man will die, a writer, the instrument of creation: but what he has created will never die! And to be able to to live for ever you don’t need to have extraordinary gifts or be able to do miracles. Who was Sancho Panza? Who was Prospero? But they will live for ever because – living seeds – they had the luck to find a fruitful soil, an imagination which knew how to grow them and feed them, so that they will live for ever.” (from Six Characters in Search of an Author , 1921)

See Denial of Death


Six Characters in Search of an Author consists of roles-within-roles. In rehearsal preparations of a theatrical company are interrupted by the Father and his family who explain that they are characters from an unfinished dramatic works. They want to interpret again crucial moments of their lives, claiming that they are “truer” than the “real” characters. “How can we understand each other if the words I use have the sense and the value I expect them to have, but whoever is listening to me inevitably thinks that those same words have a different sense and value, because of the private world he has inside himself too. We think we understand each other: but we never do,” says the Father. He tells that he has helped his wife to start a new life with her lover and the three illegitimate children born to them. The Wife claims that he forced her into the arms of another man. The Stepdaughter accuses the Father for her shame – they met before in Mme Pace’s infamous house, and he did not recognize her. She was forced to turn to prostitution to support the family. The Son refuses to acknowledge his family and runs into the garden. He shots himself and the actors argue about whether the boy is dead or not. The Father insists that the events are real. The Producer says: “Make-believe?! Reality?! Oh, go to hell the lot of you! Lights! Lights! Lights!” and The Stepdaughter escapes into the audience laughing maniacally.

ENRICO IV (1922, Henry IV, known in the United States as The Living Mask), premiered in Milan, received much better reception. The play told about a man who has fallen from his horse during a masquerade and starts to believe he is the German emperor Henry IV. To accommodate his illness his wealthy sister has placed him in a medieval castle surrounded by actors dressed as eleventh-century courtiers. The nameless hero regains his sanity after twelve years, but decides to pretend he is mad.

With the trilogy Six Characters in Search of An Author , in which the characters of the title are called into existence by a writer, CIASCUNO A SUO MODO (1924) and QUESTA SERA SI RECITA A SOGGETO (1930), Pirandello revolutionized the modern theatrical techniques. A second trilogy, LA NUOVA COLONIA (1928), LAZZARRO (1929), and I GIGANTI DELLA MONTAGNA (1934, The Mountain Giants) moved from the limits of truth-telling to the reality outside of art. The Mountain Giants was left unfinished. It portrayed a magician, who lives in an abandoned villa. A theatrical company decides to perform at a celebration given by the ‘Giants of the Mountain’. The barbaric audience tears two of the actors to pieces and kills one of the directors of the company.

Pirandello’s central themes, the problem of identity, the ambiguity of truth and reality, has been compared to explorations of Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg , but he also anticipated Beckett and Ionesco. One of the earliest formulations of his relativist position Pirandello presented in the essay ‘Art and Consciousness Today’ (1893), in which he argued that the old norms have crumbled and the idea of relativity deprives “almost altogether of the faculty for judgment.” A central concepts in his work is “naked mask”, referring our social roles and on the stage the dialectic relationship between the actor and the character portrayed. In Six Characters the father points out, that a fictional figure has a permanence that comes from an unchanging text, but a real-life person may well be “a nobody”. Pirandello did not only restrict his ideas to theatre acting, but noted in his novel SI GIRA (1915), that the film actor “feels as if in exile – exiled not only from the stage, but also from himself.”

Pirandello is always preoccupied with the problem of identity. The self exists to him only in relation to others; it consists of changing facets that hide an inscrutable abyss. In a play like Cosí é (se vi pare) (1918) [Right You Are (If You Think You Are) ], two people hold contradictory notions about the identity of a third person. The protagonist in Vestire gli ignudi (1923) [To Clothe the Naked ] tries to establish her individuality by assuming various identities, which are successively stripped from her; she gradually realizes her true position in the social order and in the end dies «naked», without a social mask, in both her own and her friends’ eyes. Similarly in Enrico IV (1922) [Henry IV ] a man supposedly mad imagines that he is a medieval emperor, and his imagination and reality are strangely confused. The conflict between illusion and reality is central in La vita che ti diedi (1924) [The Life I Gave You ] in which Anna’s long-lost son returns home and contradicts her mental conception of him. However, his death resolves Anna’s conflict; she clings to illusion rather than to reality. The analysis and dissolution of a unified self are carried to an extreme in Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore (1921) [Six Characters in Search of An Author ] where the stage itself, the symbol of appearance versus reality, becomes the setting of the play.

Identify Dissociation: Turning one’s eye inward toward one’s own consciousness means seeing with horror the threat of disintegration, of dis-aggregation of the self. In 1900, Pirandello had already read the short essay by Alfred Binet , Les altérations de la personnalité (1892) on the alterations of the personality. He cited several excerpts in his article Scienza e Critica Estetica . The experimental observations of Binet had apparently scientifically demonstrated the extreme lability of the personality: a set of psychic elements in temporary coordination which can easily collapse, giving way to many different personalities equally furnished with will and intelligence cohabiting within the same individual. In Binet’s “proofs”, Pirandello found scientific support for the surprising intuitions of much German romanticism on which he had probably meditated during his years spent in Germany. Steffens, Shubert and others who had concerned themselves with dreams were the first to discovery the existence of the subconscious. Steffens already spoke of a “consciousness which sinks into the night” and, in Jean Paul, there are already present the ideas of terror of disintegration and the chilling sensation of seeing oneself live. Pirandello shares the view that the self is not unitary. That which seemed like an irreducible and monolithic nucleus multiplies as in a prism; the exterior self does not have the same face as the secret self; it is only a mask that man unconsciously assumes in order to adapt himself to the social context in which he finds himself, each one in a different manner, in a game of mobile perspectives.
Compelled only by an interior sense of necessity, furnished with different instruments and aiming at other prospects, Pirandello ventures on his own initiative into territory which will later on end up in Freudian psychoanalysis and the analytic psychology of Carl Jung . Jung published his work The Self and the Unconscious in 1928. In that work, he attempts to scientifically investigate the relationship between the individual and the collective psyche, between the being that appears and the profound being. Jung called the self that appears a persona saying that “…the term is truly appropriate because originally persona was the mask that actors wore and also indicated the part that he played.” The persona is “that which one appears”, a facade behind which is hidden the true individual being.

Truth: (Right You Are – If You Think You Are), published in 1918, marked Pirandello’s interest in the examination of the relativity of truth. The story was about a woman whose identity remains hidden and who could be one of the two very different people.

I present myself to you in a form suitable to the relationship I wish to achieve with you.
Luigi Pirandello
Nature uses human imagination to lift her work of creation to even higher levels.
Personally, I don’t give a rap for documents; for the truth in my eyes is not in them but in the mind.
LUIGI PIRANDELLO, It Is So! (If You Think So
We’re like so many puppets hung on the wall, waiting for someone to come and move us or make us talk.
Shake yourself free from the manikin you create out of a false interpretation of what you do and what you feel, and you’ll at once see that the manikin you make yourself is nothing at all like what you really are or what you really can be!
You should show some respect for what other people see and feel, even though it be the exact opposite of what you see and feel.
LUIGI PIRANDELLO, It Is So! (If You Think So)
Buffoons, buffoons! One can play any tune on them!
The more arms and legs [children] we have, the richer we are.
The man, the writer, the instrument of the creation will die, but his creation does not die.
LUIGI PIRANDELLO, Six Characters in Search of an Author

see also Catlyn Jenner

Rachael Dolezal