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Six Characters in Search of an Author

Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) is a highly experimental play by Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936). A group of six Characters interrupts a rehearsal, claiming to be creations from unfinished work. Desperately seeking an artist to collaborate with, the Characters ask the Director to stage their story. Tensions flare between the Actors and the Characters as they debate concepts of reality and the role of art. Keep reading for a summary, an analysis, and more.

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Six Characters in Search of an Author

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Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) is a highly experimental play by Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936). A group of six Characters interrupts a rehearsal, claiming to be creations from unfinished work. Desperately seeking an artist to collaborate with, the Characters ask the Director to stage their story. Tensions flare between the Actors and the Characters as they debate concepts of reality and the role of art. Keep reading for a summary, an analysis, and more.

Six Characters in Search of an Author, Luigi Pirandello, StudySmarterFig. 1 -

Luigi Pirandello's short stories and plays often explore complex psychological and moral issues.

Six Characters in Search of an Author: Summary

Pirandello's play follows a group of fictional characters trying to stage a play about their lives. The play is divided into three acts.

Act I

As a company of Actors rehearses, a group of six Characters suddenly invades the stage. The Characters introduce themselves as the Father, the Mother, the Son, the Boy, the Child, and the Stepdaughter. They claim to be fictional characters created by an author who lost interest in them. Stranded without an end to their story, they implore the Director to collaborate with them.

The Director is skeptical, but the Father reasons that since acting and directing are acts of creation, ideas can take on a life of their own. The Characters reveal their backstory. After the Mother and Father conceived the Son, the Father sent the Mother to live with another man. The Mother gave birth to three other children by the man—the Boy, the Child, and the Step-Daughter. Though the Father initially had some contact with the Mother and her new children, developing a close bond with the Step-Daughter, he soon became estranged.

When the Characters first invade the stage, the Actors are rehearsing Luigi Pirandello's play The Rules of the Game (1918).

Years later, while working at a hat store owned by Madame Pace, the Step-Daughter is coerced into sex work. One day, the Father visits the hat store and attempts to illicit sex from her. The Mother barges in and reveals their true identities. The Father claims he did not know the truth, but the Step-Daughter suspects otherwise.

Six Characters in Search of an Author, stage, StudySmarter

Fig. 2 - As the play begins, the audience in the theatre is greeted by a group of actors in a theatre rehearsing a play.

The Director agrees to stage the story and tells his Actors to observe the action and memorize the Character's dialogue so they can stage the play at a later date. The Characters argue that they are the only ones able to tell their story truthfully. A debate ensues about the authenticity of acting and the Actor's ability to represent the truth.

Act II

The Characters run the first scene with the Father meeting the Step-Daughter at the hat store. The Step-Daughter is unable to authentically recreate the meeting without Madame Pace present. The Father begins to move objects around the stage to make the setting more realistic, which causes Madame Pace to magically appear. The scene starts to run smoothly as Madame Pace convinces the Step-Daughter to become a sex worker.

In some productions of the play, the Characters wear masks representing their fixed emotional state. Why would some directors make a creative choice to cover the Character's faces?

The Director stops the action and has the Actors recreate the scene. The Actors' attempt to mimic them causes the Characters to burst out laughing. A heated debate about accuracy and realism ensues as the Characters reason that the Actors can never engage with the real emotion of an event.

The Characters rerun the scene. The Father attempts his sexual proposition in a romantic light, but the Step-Daughter views the proposition as an extremely harrowing moment. The Director claims that neither the Father's nor the Step-Daughter's version of events is entirely true because the truth lies somewhere in between.

One of the debates in the play is the nature of reality. Which side presents a stronger case for the true nature of reality? Why?

Act III

The play's final act is set in a garden. Before the Characters can begin running the scene, it is revealed they have been arguing backstage. The Son refuses to participate in the play because he wants nothing to do with his step-siblings. The Characters argue with the Director, stating that each of their storylines should occur in separate locations for the sake of accuracy. The Director counters that this is impossible in the theatre and urges the family to condense the action to one setting.

Six Characters in Search of an Author, tragedy, StudySmarterFig. 3 - The play's tone shifts from comedic to tragic.

The Director finally convinces the Characters to run the second act of their story, but the scene soon disintegrates into a quarrel. They accuse the Father of trying to take the place of their author and alter the family's story. As the fighting intensifies, the Director notices that the Child has drowned in the fountain. The Boy, having remained silent through the play, exits the stage. Everyone hears a gunshot. The Characters drag the Boy's body onstage, but no one is sure if he is actually dead or just acting. The confused Director stares in disbelief, unable to distinguish between reality and art, but reasons that either way, he has lost a day's rehearsal and dismisses the Actors. The Characters loom ominously over the Director until the Step-Daughter steps away from them, begins to laugh manically, and flees the theatre.

When the play first opened in 1921, many audience members jeered the production with chants of "Madhouse!" The work's convention-shattering nature was too much for some people!

Six Characters in Search of an Author: Characters

Most of the play's action focuses on interactions between the Father and the Step-Daughter or the Father's debates with the Director.

The Father

The Father is a stout man in his mid-fifties who acts as the leader of the Characters, explaining their backstory and beliefs through monologue. The Father engages in a series of debates with the Director and Actors over the nature of reality and the role of art, arguing that the Characters have as much right to call themselves real as any other person.

Having sent his wife away to live with another man and then propositioned his stepdaughter, the Father feels shameful for his actions. He is presented as philosophical and reflective about his actions and the more significant implications of the drama and art.

The Step-Daughter

An energetic and bright 18-year-old, the Step-Daughter is forced into sex work while working at Madame Pace's hat store. When the Father makes a sexual advance on her, the Step-Daughter claims he was extremely aggressive and knew her real identity. While some family members are hesitant to stage their story, the Step-Daughter is keen to re-enact the events and expose the Father's actions.

However, as they attempt to run the rehearsal, a more complex version of events emerges. Of all the Characters, the Step-Daughter is the one most able to present her truth on the stage. In the end, she is the only one of the Characters able to leave the stage and enter the real world.

The Director

The Director of the theatre company is quick-tempered and authoritative. In the beginning, he is running a rehearsal for a Pirandello play which he finds too complex and untraditional. The Director's desire to stick to the conventional rules of theatre brings him into direct conflict with the Characters. The Director pushes back forcefully as the Father questions the boundaries between art and reality.

Six Characters in Search of an Author, Director Chair, StudySmarterFig. 4 - The Director is intrigued by the Characters backstory but struggles to control the action.

Although the Director is drawn to the exciting concept, he is angered by the lack of a storyline and the Character's insistence on realism. This reflects the stuffy, small-mindedness Pirandello faced from some of his contemporaries in the theatre world who did not understand the subversive quality of his works.

Six Characters in Search of an Author: Themes

Six Characters in Search of an Author explores the complex relationship between the writer and his fictional creations.

Art and Reality

The six Characters who invade the stage in Six Characters in Search of an Author come from a work Pirandello had abandoned years before. The writer found that these characters stayed in his mind even after deserting the idea and moving on to other works. Pirandello felt these six characters took on a life of their own and demanded a space to tell their story.

While characters in fictional works are traditionally viewed as puppets used by the artist to tell a story, in Six Characters in Search of an Author, the Characters are given agency. Instead of waiting for their creator, the Characters go in search of another artist. They are not merely passive subjects but active participants who collaborate with the artist to create a finished piece.

Six Characters in Search of an Author, Reality, StudySmarterFig. 5 - Pirandello's works often challenge the audience's concept of reality.

By breaking this convention, Pirandello questions the nature of reality and art. The Characters and Actors disagree about authenticity and truth. The Father claims the Actor's job is to recreate these emotions in a simulated situation. While the Characters are aware of their fictional nature, the emotional turmoil they feel is genuine.

Pirandello blurs the line between reality and art even further as the Characters act out their story as a play. During a heated debate, the Father argues that an individual's sense of reality is constantly evolving and even a person's sense of identity is often highly subjective. Since this sense of reality is not fixed, it can not be trusted. On the other hand, works of fiction, like the Characters, are fixed and unchanging. Since an artist's creation live long after the creator's death, the Father reasons that the Characters have more permanence and truth than the Actors.

Due to the play's provocative style and content, it took some time for the groundbreaking nature of Pirandello's work to be appreciated. The play first appeared in 1921, just a few short years after the end of WWI. With such widespread loss of life, many people felt disillusioned by the standard forms of art. Artists and writers of the Modernism genre reacted to this feeling by creating more experimental and challenging pieces.

Pirandello's works broke many of the traditional rules of theatre and served as a foundation for the Theatre of the Absurd movement, which flourished after WWII. Just as society suffered a sense of detachment from meaning and morality after WWI, writers and artists felt a similar sense following the horrors of WWII.

The Theatre of the Absurd is named for the ideas of French philosopher and writer Albert Camus (1913-1960). In Camus' 1942 essay "The Myth of Sisyphus," he argues that the quest for any sense of meaning in the universe is ultimately absurd. This theory would be highly influential in literature as writers like Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) and Harold Pinter (1930-2008) used their plays to deconstruct the most basic rules of drama and theatre.

Plays like Six Characters in Search of an Author broke conventions and blurred the lines between art and reality to highlight the absurdity that there can ever be a shared idea of reality.

Six Characters in Search of an Author: Analysis

Pirandello's highly experimental play deals with issues of identity, meaning, and reality. Six Characters in Search of an Author is a key work of the modernist movement.

Modernism is a philosophy and art style that deals with the challenges of modern life. With urbanization, many bonds of community deteriorated. Artists and writers began to produce works that dealt with this struggle for meaning and identity. Modernist works often challenge traditional beliefs and ways of thinking.

Pirandello uses the play to challenge audience expectations and the conventions of the theatre. Rather than opening on a realistic set, the play begins with a group of actors rehearsing a play. From the outset, the audience is aware of the fictional nature of both theatre and acting.

Like many other modernist works, Six Characters in Search of an Author deals with the problems of modern life. With the rise of individualism, many people struggled to define themselves. Similarly, the Characters find themselves at odds with other people's definitions of them. While the Actors and Director accept the traditional conventions of theatre and reality, the Characters struggle to create a more complex version of themselves.

Six Characters in Search of an Author, Prison, StudySmarterFig. 6 - The Characters are aware they are fictional creations and feel imprisoned by the limitations of the theatre.

Modernism strives for a sense of realism and authenticity. The Characters are obsessed with accuracy and begin to favor realism over the standard conventions of theatre. They conduct whispered conversations the audience can't hear or have multiple characters talking over one another to imitate real life. By taking realism to its logical extreme, the Characters end up making their play inaccessible to the audience.

By constantly drawing attention to the rules and limitations of theatre, Pirandello's work displays many techniques of Metatheatre.

Metatheatre is a literary form that highlights the fictional nature of theater. Works of metatheatre deliberately reference theatrical techniques to challenge the audience's expectations. Famous examples of metatheatre include the play within a play in William Shakespeare's (1564-1616) Hamlet (1599-1601) and Noises Off (1982) by Michael Frayn (1933-Present).

Most theatrical works emulate reality to elicit genuine emotions. In Six Characters in Search of an Author, Pirandello constantly reminds his audience that theatre is fake. By exposing theatrical techniques, Pirandello questions the role played by the author, the actors, and even the audience in this simulation of reality. The play never allows the audience to sit back and follow the story; they are constantly challenged with important philosophical questions.

While most plays depend on an easy-to-follow story arc and contain easily distinguishable character types, Six Characters in Search of an Author is purposefully challenging to follow as the Characters struggle to rehearse a play within a play. The Character's debates with the Director constantly break the pacing.

Six Characters in Search of an Author is the first installment in a trilogy Pirandello dubbed "Theatre-in-the-theatre." The other installments, Each in His Own Way (1924) and Tonight We Improvise (1929), are also set in a theatre and deal with the relationship between art and reality. Each play explores the tension between the drive to create realistic art and the need to work within the confines of making entertaining and accessible theatre.

Six Characters in Search of an Author: Quotes

In Six Characters in Search of an Author, Luigi Pirandello examines the relationship between artists and their creations and the nature of reality. Here is a look at some meaningful quotes from the play.

"When a character is born, he acquires at once such an independence, even of his own author..." (Act III)

The entire play hinges on the idea that a writer's fictional creations can take on a life of their own and exist outside the page. The Father tells the Director that he was "born" and is an independent being worthy of life and does not need to depend on his author.

"We all have a world of things inside ourselves... How can we understand each other if the words I use have the sense and the value that I expect them to have, but whoever is listening to me inevitably thinks that those same words have a different sense and value..." (Act I)

As the Characters argue with the Director over what it means to be real, the Father contends that each individual's basis of reality is highly subjective and personal. Throughout the play, Characters clash because of the struggle to communicate and agree on the most basic ideas.

Six Characters in Search of an Author - Key takeaways

  • Six Characters in Search of an Author is a metatheatre play by Luigi Pirandello.

  • The play features a group of six Characters who claim to be fictional creations from an abandoned work. The Characters interrupt a company of Actors during rehearsal and implore the Director to stage their story.

  • Throughout the play, the Director and Characters debate about truth and reality.

  • Pirandello blurs the line between truth and fiction to challenge the audience's expectations of theatre.

  • Six Characters in Search of an Author is the first installment in Pirandello's "Theatre-in-the-theatre" trilogy.



References

  1. Fig. 1 - Luigi Pirandello by unknown author, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Luigi_Pirandello_1924.jpg
  2. Fig. 2 - Harrogate Theatre pit and curtain by Celia Perry: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Harrogate_Theatre_pit_and_curtain.jpg
  3. Fig. 4 - Director's chair icon by Townie, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Director_icon.svg

Frequently Asked Questions about Six Characters in Search of an Author

Six Characters in Search of an Author was written by Luigi Pirandello.

Luigi Pirandello uses Six Characters in Search of an Author to quest the boundaries between art and reality.

Six Characters in Search of an Author contains many of characteristics of modernism, including experimentation and self-reference. The work contains a play-within-a-play and reveals many theatrical techniques. 

The main conflict in Six Characters in Search of an Author is the idea of truth and reality. While the Actors and Director argue that they are more real than the fictional Characters, the Characters argue that they are the only people truly capable of performing their story.

Yes, Six Characters in Search of an Author is an example of Metatheatre. From the outset, Pirandello makes the audience aware that theatre is an art form and uses the play to explore the boundary between art and reality. 

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Who is the leader of the Characters? 

Which Luigi Pirandello play are the actors rehearsing when the Characters first appear? 

Who is the owner of the hat store? 

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