Playing the double: Pirandello's disjunctive effects on dramaturgy in liberal and fascist Italy (1860--1936)

Date of Completion

January 2005


Literature, Modern|Literature, Romance|Anthropology, Cultural|Theater




This study examines how contents and structures of Luigi Pirandello's theatre subvert hegemonic discourses circulating in bourgeois, regional and nationalist dramatic production from the years of the Liberal State (1860-1922) to Fascist Italy (1922-1936). As part of the "disciplinary" project of the new Italian State, such production elaborates a stable model of gender, ethnic, and national subjects. Based on identification techniques, this model shapes the theatre of the adultery, the regional production of verismo, and nationalist drama. By way of a number of alienating devices, including meta-theatrical reflexivity, parodic doubling, and paradigmatic repetition, Pirandello disrupts essentialist visions of gender, Sicilian-ness, and collective models of national identity. Pirandello's alienating devices, which are the product of a dynamic relation between social and structural elements, constitute a repertoire of disjunctive figures that shape four distinct groups of plays: grotesque (La morsa, La ragione degli altri, Come prima, meglio di prima, L'uomo, la bestia, la virtù, La signora Morli, una e due, Come to mi vuoi); regional ('A birritta cu' i ciancianeddi, Liolà, 'A patenti, Pensaci Giacuminu!); metatheatrical (Sei personaggi in cerca di autore, Questa sera si recita a soggetto, Ciascuno a suo modo ); "mythical" (La nuova colonia, Lazzaro, I giganti della montagna). ^ The first chapter focuses on the subversion of bourgeois morality that is encoded in the staging of the adulterine love triangle of the grotesque plays. Pirandello fragments the unity of character in a conflict of different roles, thereby breaking the model of a stable family based upon marital authority, female subordination, and the double standard that ensues from the rigidity of such gender roles. ^ The second chapter addresses Pirandello's Sicilian theatre and focuses on the dramatist's use of parodic doubles as means to question national stereotypes of Sicily as an archive of tradition and the essence of Italian-ness. ^ Pirandello's meta-theatrical reflexivity, as opposed to both Fascist ritual theatricality and D'Annunzio's dramaturgy, is analyzed in chapter three. Meta-theatre becomes the means to prompt the audience to espouse a position of critical distance that was discouraged by the consensual structure that shaped Fascist collective performances. ^ The fourth and last chapter, devoted to Pirandello's "myths", challenges critical opinion that in this production the dramatist falls prey to the lure of Fascist mythical thought. This chapter examines how the assertive and optimist mythical structure of Fascist dramatic practices are questioned in the unveiling of the ideology that informs them: the nationalist desire for a colonial empire, the alignment of the Catholic Church with the regime, and art's loss of autonomy towards the totalitarian regime. ^