10 December 2015

Luigi Pirandello - playwright, poet and novelist

Brilliant writing was born out of ‘chaos’

Sicilian writer Luigi Pirandello died on this day in Rome in 1936.

The Sicilian writer Luigi Pirandello became famous for 'Six Characters in Search of an Author'
Luigi Pirandello, pictured in 1898

Famous for his play ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’, (Sei Personaggi in Cerca d’Autore), Pirandello was also a prolific writer of novels, short stories and poetry, some of which were written in his native Sicilian dialect.

His plays are often seen as the forerunners of the Theatre of the Absurd dramas of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco.

Pirandello’s contribution to the theatre was recognised in 1934 when he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature.

Pirandello was literally born in Chaos. The name of the village near Agrigento in Sicily where his mother gave birth to him in 1867 is Caos, the Italian word for ‘chaos’, or in Sicilian, u Càvusu.

He was educated at home and had written his first play by the time he was 12. When his family moved to Palermo, he completed his school education and, after a spell working with his father in the sulphur industry, he registered at the University of Palermo.

He later moved to Rome to complete his studies, which gave him the chance to go to the theatre regularly, and he also studied for a while in Bonn.

His writing career took off after ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ was first presented in 1921 at Teatro Valle in Rome.

But his personal life became increasingly difficult. His wife became mentally ill, which had disturbing effects on the rest of his family and, although he tried to look after her at home for many years, she eventually had to go into an asylum. His writing often dealt with the themes of madness, illusion and isolation.

Pirandello died alone at his home in Rome. He had left instructions for a simple funeral followed by cremation, but his wishes were ignored and he was given a state funeral.

Sicilian playwright Luigi Pirandello was born in Caos, a village near Agrigento
The house near Agrigento where Pirandello was born
Travel Tip:

Agrigento is on the southern coast of Sicily and is built on the site of an ancient Greek city. Its most famous sight is the Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi) a large sacred area where seven monumental Greek temples were constructed during the sixth and fifth centuries BC. 

Travel tip:

Rome’s Teatro Valle, where the premiere of ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’ was staged, was built in 1726 near the Pantheon. At first the theatre staged a mixture of opera and drama but from the middle of the 19th century it staged only plays. Teatro Valle became the scene of real-life drama in 2011 when it was occupied by theatre workers protesting over plans to privatise the venue. 

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