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Summary Article: Pirandello, Luigi
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(lwē'jē pērändĕl'lō), 1867–1936, Italian author, b. Sicily. One of the great figures in 20th-century European theater, Pirandello was awarded the 1934 Nobel Prize in Literature. After an extensive education, he began in the 1890s to write poetry and short stories, many of which reflect his interest in Sicilian folklore. In 1897 he became professor of Italian literature at the Normal College for Women in Rome. Before achieving fame Pirandello had many difficult years. Lack of public recognition, the failure of his father's mining business, and the 14-year-long insanity of his wife may account in part for the pessimism of his work. Pirandello wrote seven novels, among them Il fu Mattia Pascal (1904, tr. The Late Mattia Pascal, 1923) and I vecchi e i giovani (1913, tr. The Young and the Old, 1928), as well as nearly 300 short stories. His fame rests primarily, however, on his intellectual and grotesquely humorous plays. He began writing for the theater during World War I and from that time until his death produced more than 40 dramas. By 1924 his plays were being performed in most of the great cities of the world. The best known include Così è, se vi pare (1917, tr. Right You Are If You Think You Are, 1922), Il piacere dell'onestà (1917, tr. The Pleasure of Honesty, 1923), Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore (1921, tr. Six Characters in Search of an Author, 1922), Enrico IV (1922, tr. Henry IV, 1922), and Come tu mi vuoi (1930, tr. As You Desire Me, 1931). The grim humor of his plays flows from their central theme—the shattering search to distinguish between reality and illusion. Reality he saw as an intangible, and what is taken for reality as a series of illusions. Since truth was not ascertainable, man was condemned to live in moral and cultural confusion, or even anarchy. These alienated beliefs may partly explain Pirandello's acceptance of Mussolini as a man of order. Pirandello's works are influential models for later existential drama.

  • See studies by W. F. Starkie (3d ed. 1965);.
  • O. Büdel (2d ed. 1969), R. Matthaei (tr. 1973), A. Paolucci (1974), D. Radcliff-Unstead (1978), O. Ragusa (1980), and A. Caputi (1988).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

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