Luigi Pirandello: An Overview
By Alison Christy
Playwright Luigi Pirandello was one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. He was born in Sicily in 1867, during the time when Italian city-states were unifying into a single country. Pirandello spent the first part of his career as a literary scholar and writer, only coming to playwriting later in life. While teaching in Rome, Pirandello wrote many short stories and essays, including “On Humor” [“L’umorismo”], a treatise written in 1908 that offered a linguistic, historical, and comparative analysis on the notion of humor.
The Man with the Flower in His Mouth [L’uomo dal fiore in bocca] was originally a short story called “All-Night Café” [“Caffè notturno”]. Published in 1918 and later renamed “Death on my Shoulder” [“La morte addosso”], the short story was written entirely as a dialogue and without any narration. Pirandello’s theatrical adaptation of The Man with the Flower in His Mouth premiered in 1923. In 1930, the British Broadcasting Cooperation was experimenting with television broadcasting and an English translation of Pirandello’s play became the broadcaster’s first televised drama. A more detailed history of the project can be found here.
Between his writing of the short story and its subsequent adaptation for the stage, Pirandello’s most famous play, Six Characters in Search of an Author [Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore], premiered in Rome, Italy in 1921. The metatheatrical play is set in a theatre where a company is rehearsing a new play. A group of strangers, the characters, interrupt the rehearsal searching for an author to finish writing their story. Using the elements of theatre—actors, characters, the physical space of the stage, the missing author, and the manager—Pirandello’s play explores and complicates the interplay between reality and illusion. Before Six Characters in Search of an Author, Pirandello could be described, as he was by an Italian journalist, as “not famous, but not unknown.” The premiere of the play, however, made Pirandello an internationally renowned playwright.
Pirandello was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934 for his “bold and ingenious revival of dramatic and scenic art.” He died in 1936.