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LUIGI PIRANDELLO (1867-1936)

The following biography was originally published in European Theories of the Drama. New York: Crown Publishers, 1947.

PIRANDELLO was born in 1867 in the ancient town of Agrigento, Sicily. He studied in Rome and later at the University of Bonn, where he earned his doctorate in philosophy. In 1894, he agreed to a marriage arranged by his family to a girl he had not known before. They settled in Rome, where she bore him three children and where he began in 1899 to teach Italian literature at a local teachers college for women; he continued to teach here till 1923. The loss of his father's fortune brought financial worries, and his wife's physical weakness following the birth of their third child in 1899 contributed to her growing mental derangement, which made a hell of the dramatist's life till her death in 1918.

A poet in youth and later a successful novelist with such works as The Late Mattia Pascal in 1904, Pirandello began as a dramatist by turning some of his short stories into one-act plays. He undertook drama more seriously during World War I and in the years following. He won his lasting fame with such plays as Right You Are! (If You Think So) (1916), which establishes the difficulty of knowing the truth and the need for kindness in human relations; Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921), a fantasy which comments on the limits of the conventional stage and the mystery of the human personality; Henry IV (1922), in which a seeming madman is encouraged to believe that he is a Holy Roman Emperor; Each in His Own Way (1924); As You Desire Me (1930), concerning a lady whose identity is in doubt; and Tonight We Improvise (1930). Pirandello received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934. He died in 1936.

Over and over, he investigated questions of reality, identity, intention, and sanity. He seemed to be saying, in many different ways, that a human personality cannot and must not be violated, that its true nature cannot really be known. His best-known play, Six Characters, turns upon the ineffective efforts of actors to interpret a difficult family tragedy. He found both comic and tragic qualities in such problems.


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