Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2012Type
.......Six Characters in Search of an Author
is a stage comedy in which the performers include
persons who say they are characters from an unfinished
play. The comedy, written in Italian (Sei
personaggi in cerca d'autore), helped lay the foundation
for the Theater of the Absurd, a literary genre popular
in the second half of the twentieth century. Absurdist
drama presents life as meaningless, nonsensical, and
comic. It may also allow unreality to exist in the real
.......Six Characters in Search of an Author was
first performed at the Teatro Valle in Rome in
.......The action takes place in the daytime on a
theater stage. The only props are several tables and
chairs and the prompter's box.
The Characters From an Unfinished Play
The Theater Company
The Director (also referred to in translations as the
manager or the producer)
The Leading Man
The Leading Lady
The Second Lady
L'Ingénue (actress who specializes in playing
innocent young girls)
Other Actors and Actresses
The Property Man
The Director's Secretary
tone is playful and comic.
in the Play
.......The play depends in part for its effect
on relativism, which maintains that the way one person
evaluates or judges another person or a place, a
thing, or an idea varies from individual to
Six Characters in Search of an Author: a Comedy in
the Making, Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello
presents six characters who walk off the pages of an
unfinished play script and onto the stage of a
theater. There, in front of a company of actors and
their director, these characters assert that they are
every bit as real as the actors rehearsing the play.
In fact, the characters suggest, they may actually be
more real than the actors. After all, actors merely
play roles, but characters are the roles. If
the author has properly done his job, the characters
will be true to life. And is it not the goal of the
theater to present the truth?Plot
.......Those who maintain that the
characters are not real but simply an illusion or a
trick need to realize that objective reality is not
the only reality, Pirandello seems to be saying. And
who is to say that objective reality is true reality
Based on Edward Storer's 1922 English Translation
(New York: E. P. Dutton)
assemble to rehearse an old Pirandello play. The stage
is empty except for several tables and chairs. After the
director arrives and goes to a table, the prompter opens
his copy of the script while the property man turns on
lights. Three actors walk to the front of the stage to
begin rehearsing their parts for the second act. The
prompter notes the setting: a room in Leo Gala's house
that serves as a study and dining room.
.......The director instructs an actor
playing Socrates about what to do on his entrances and
exits. When the act begins, the prompter says, the actor
playing Leo Gala is to wear a cook's hat and apron while
beating an egg in a cup. An actor playing Philip is also
to beat an egg while an actor playing Guido Venanzi is
sitting. The Leading Man, who plays Gala, thinks it is
stupid to have to wear a cook's hat. But the director
orders him to do so.
.......Moments later, six people unconnected
with the acting company invade the stage. An eerie light
shines on them, as if they have just walked out of a
dream. They identify themselves as characters from a
play by a writer who abandoned them after he completed
only part of the work. They say they are looking for an
author to finish the play so that they will be able to
perform it. The director tells them that the actors in
his company are rehearsing an old play, not a new one.
Consequently, the author is not present. The characters
looking for an author include the following:
The Father, a man of
about 50........When the Stepdaughter importunes the
director to allow them to act out their story as a new
play, he thinks they are playing a weird joke.
Meanwhile, the actors standing by for rehearsal are
The Mother, the wife of The
Father. She wears black clothing. A black mourning
veil covers her face.
The Stepdaughter, a beautiful
and outspoken young woman.
The Boy, a timid
The Child, a four-year-old
The Son, a twenty-two-year-old
with a sneering manner.
.......The Father tells the director that the
characters in a play are, in a sense, real people who
present universal truths and often live on for centuries
after their author has died. However, the Father says,
all that he and his fellow actors are asking is to be
allowed to live for a short while within the actors
assembled for rehearsal. An adolescent male actor says
he has no objections to that request if it is the comely
Stepdaughter who lives in him. When the director asks
the characters where the script is, the Father says it
is in him and the other characters.
.......“We are the drama,” he says.
.......The alluring stepdaughter demonstrates
her skills as a singer and dancer. The actors shout
.......As the characters converse with
themselves and the director, the details of the plot in
which they are involved begin to unfold.
.......The character known as the Mother is
the wife of the character known as the Father. Years
ago, after they married, she bore him a son. In time,
the Father tired of the Mother and promoted an affair
between her and his office clerk. The Mother fell in
love with the clerk and eventually left left home to be
with him. The Son remained behind. The Father later puts
the Son under the care of a wet nurse in the country so
that he would grow up healthy and strong. When he
returned to the Father's house, he had "no tie of
intellect or affection binding him to me," the Father
.......Meanwhile, over the years, three
children are born to the Mother and the clerk: the
character known as the Boy, the character known as the
Stepdaughter, and the character known as the Child. Over
Father became interested in his wife again, as well as
her new children, and looked for them around town. The
Stepdaughter says he used to bring her presents. But the
clerk, the Mother, and the three children moved out of
.......Recently—in fact, just two months
before the characters showed up at the rehearsal—the
clerk died. With no means of support, the Mother and the
three children returned to town to find employment to
.......The Stepdaughter introduces into the
conversation Madame Pace and her shop, which sells
robes, manteaux (loose-fitting cloaks), and other
articles of clothing. This topic makes the Father
uncomfortable—and with good reason. Here is what
.......Madame Pace gave the Mother a job in
the shop in order to get at the Stepdaughter. She wanted
to hire her for her brothel in a back room. After the
lovely young lady took the job, one of her clients
turned out to be the Father. When he came in one day
with a hundred lire, he was about to go to bed with the
Stepdaughter when the Mother happened to enter the room.
Embarrassed, the Father said he was unaware of the
girl's identity. The Stepdaughter disputed his claim.
The Father then took the Mother, the Stepdaughter, and
the other children home, and they became a family. The
Son, whom the Mother left behind when she absconded with
the clerk, resented the intrusion of these people into
.......The director is now intrigued by the
story and agrees to stage it. However, he wants his own
actors to perform the drama; the characters are to speak
their lines while the prompter copies them down. The
characters object, but the director gets his way.
.......The rehearsal is to begin with the
scene in the brothel. Although Madame Pace is not
present, the Father mysteriously conjures her. After the
Father and Stepdaughter present part of the scene, the
director tells his actors to take over and rehearse the
same part. But when they recite their lines, the
characters laugh at them, the Stepdaughter noting that
the dialogue is wrong. She points out, for example, that
the actor playing the Father is supposed to say to the
actor playing her, “Let's take off this little dress at
.......The director then allows the
characters to demonstrate the scene. The Stepdaughter
places her head on the Father's chest. Following the
script of the unfinished play, she throws her arms
around the Father's neck and sees “a vein pulsing in my
.......The Mother, thinking the scene is
reality, comes forth and separates them, saying to the
Father, “You brute! You brute! She is my daughter.”
.......The director likes the scene.
.......After a break, the characters continue
the drama. The scene changes to the Father's house. When
the Mother attempts to speak to the Son, he ignores her
and goes into the garden. There he sees the Child (the
four-year-old daughter) in the fountain, a drowning
victim. He tells the director, “I was jumping in to drag
her out when I saw something that froze my blood . . .
the boy standing stock still, with eyes like a madman's,
watching his little drowned sister, in the fountain! The
Boy (the fourteen-year-old son of the Mother and the
clerk) has a handgun. He shoots himself.
.......The director asks, “Is he really
.......Some of his actors say, “He's dead.
Dead.” Other actors say the Boy is only pretending. The
Father says the death is real.
.......The director, disgusted, says,
“Pretence? Reality? To hell with it all! Never in my
life has such a thing happened to me. I've lost a whole
day over these people, a whole day!”
What Is Real? What Is Illusion?
.......The six characters in Pirandello's
play maintain that they are real even though they are
products of an author's imagination. But because the
director and his actors can see and hear them, they
perceive them as flesh-and-blood humans playing a trick.
For the characters to say that they come from the mind
of an author is beyond absurd to the acting company.
....... Speaking for his fellow characters,
the Father then challenges the reality of the director
and the acting company, saying, "If we have
no other reality beyond the illusion, you too
must not count overmuch on your reality as you
feel it today, since, like that of yesterday, it
may prove an illusion for you tomorrow. . . .Ours is an
immutable reality which should make you shudder
when you approach us if you are really conscious
of the fact that your reality is a mere
transitory and fleeting illusion, taking this
form today and that tomorrow, according to the
conditions, according to your will, your
sentiments, which in turn are controlled by an
intellect that shows them to you today in one
manner and tomorrow . . . who knows how?"
the bizarre, seemingly absurd dialectic is a
serious theme: each person perceives and
interprets reality differently. For example, two painters looking at
the same subject will produce strikingly different
representations of it. Consider that Salvador Dali and Pablo
Picasso both painted images of armed conflict which bore
no resemblance to each other and were far removed from
reality. Paradoxically, however, these paintings (Dali's The
Face of War and Picasso's Guernica) both
presented reality—the reality of stark, nightmarish war.
.......The point that Pirandello is making is
that there is more to reality than meets the senses. One
man's reality may be another man's illusion, and vice
versa. And sometimes true reality hides itself beneath a
veneer that no empirical observer can penetrate.
Shakespeare wrote, “A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
/ O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!” (The
Merchant of Venice, 188.8.131.52).
Who Am I?
people attempt to define us. Our friends may see us as
kind and courageous; our enemies, as cruel and cowardly.
One boss may see us as efficient and productive;
another, as inefficient and unproductive. One cousin may
regard us as funny; another, as dull. Which opinions
about us are valid is not always easy to determine. We
ourselves may be confused about which is our true
reality. After all, we tend to be blind to our own
weaknesses. Others, usually our adversaries, tend to be
blind to our strengths.
....... In Pirandello's play, the actors are blind
to the reality of the six characters, the Father and
Stepdaughter maintain. The actors' blindness serves as a
metaphor for the partiality, prejudice, and ignorance
that color the opinions of people in everyday life.
Good Literature Endures
.......Almost everyone who reads or likes to
listen to stories has heard of Frankenstein,
Ebenezer Scrooge, and Little Red Riding Hood. These
characters have walked out of the pages of books and
become part of our everyday lives. Sometimes they invade
our dreams. Sometimes they come to our aid when we are
making a comparison in our conversation or writing.
Every Halloween, we see them walking the streets of
cities and towns.
.......In Pirandello's play, the Father
speaks of the immortality of a character born in a book.
“He cannot die. The man, the writer, the instrument of
the creation will die, but his creation does not die.”
.......The Father is right. Even now, the
characters in the first two great works in western
composed nearly three thousand years ago—continue to
live in high school and colleges, on the screens of
theaters, and in other literary works they have wandered
into. Who has not heard of Achilles, Helen of Troy, and
the Trojan War? Who has not heard of Zeus, Athena, and
the alluring Sirens?
occurs when the Boy shoots himself and the
actors cannot determine whether he really
committed suicide or is just pretending. This
moment sums up the main theme
of the play. Here is the dialogue:
Director: Is he really wounded?
Some Actors: He's dead! Dead!
Other Actors: No, it's only
make-believe, it's only pretense.
The Father: Pretense? Reality,
Director: Pretense? Reality? To
hell with it all! Never in my life has such a
thing happened to me. I've lost a whole day
over these people, a whole day!
Reality: Character vs Actor
manner of speaking, the Father and the Daughter are
right: an actor is less real than a character. Consider
that in novels and short stories, characters speak
directly to their readers in dialogue, They do not need
actors to play them.
a script for the stage or a motion picture, an actor
playing a character is simply pretending to be the
character. It is the character who
represents reality. In rare instances, a talented actor can
seem to become the character. Still, he is not the
Quotations About Reality
Study Questions and Essay
Reality is merely an
illusion, albeit a very persistent one.—Albert Einstein. Quoted in Einstein's Lament,
by Fred W. deJavanne.
- The highest problem of any
art is to cause by appearance the illusion of a
higher reality.—Johann von Goethe. Quoted in Forty
Thousand Quotations: Prose and Poetical,
compiled by Charles Noel Douglas.
- Art is not a study of
positive reality, it is the seeking for ideal
truth.—George Sand (pen name of the French writer
Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin). This quotation
appears in La Mare au Diable. Here is the
original French: L'art n'est pas une
étude de la réalité positive;
c'est une recherche de la vérité
Humankind cannot bear very
much reality.—T. S. Eliot, from The
- Literature adds to reality,
it does not simply describe it. It enriches the
necessary competencies that daily life requires and
provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the
deserts that our lives have already become.—C.S.
Lewis, Quoted in C.S. Lewis: The Shape of His
Faith and Thought, by Paul Holmer.
- True absurdism is not less
but more real than reality.—John Simon. Quoted in
"absurdism," The American Heritage Dictionary of
the English Language, Fourth Edition.
Write an essay that
explains why following words spoken by the Father
help to develop the thesis of the play. "Each
one of us has within him a whole world of things,
each man of us his own special world. And how can we
ever come to an understanding if I put in the words
I utter the sense and value of things as I see them;
while you who listen to me must inevitably translate
them according to the conception of things each one
of you has within himself."
- Tell your
classmates about a person you know who attempts to
live in another world, another reality?
- Do you consider
as real only what you can perceive with your five
senses? If your answer is yes, how would explain the
existence of thoughts?
- Write an essay
that attempts to define reality.