Henry IV (Pirandello)  

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Enrico IV (Henry IV) is a play by Luigi Pirandello, considered by some to be his masterpiece. Written in just two weeks in 1921 and first performed in 1922, it studies the comedy and tragedy of madness and is based on Pirandello’s experiences with his wife who struggled with the disease all her life.

There are many translations into English including one by Tom Stoppard which departs considerably from the original Italian.

Plot overview

A talented actor and historian falls off his horse during a historical pageant while playing the role of Henry IV. When he comes to, he believes himself to be the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV of Germany. For the next twenty years his nephew, Count de Nolli, funds an elaborate hoax in a remote villa, where actors play the roles of Henry's privy councillors and simulate the 11th century court.

On request from his dying mother (Henry's sister) de Nolli brings a Doctor, referred to as the latest in a succession to try and cure Henry (whose real name, if it is not Henry, is never mentioned). All the action of the play occurs in this one day of the visit.

Accompanying de Nolli and the Doctor are:

  • Frida, de Nolli's fiancé.
  • Frida's mother, Matilda (whom Henry loved, unrequitedly before the accident). The character notes describe Matilda as a widow, and neither Henry nor Belcredi is Frida's father. A portrait of the young Matilda in costume from the pageant, dressed as Matilda of Tuscany hangs on the wall of the throne room. Frida is now the spitting image of her mother as she was then.
  • Matilda's lover, Belcredi.

In the first two acts Matilda, the Doctor and Belcredi play parts from the period whilst interacting with Henry. Matilda plays the King's mother-in-law, Adelaide and the Doctor Abbot Hugh of Cluny. Belcredi dresses as one of the Abbot's attendants.

The play begins with the induction of Bertoldo into the band of privy councillors, who has prepared for the part in Henry IV of France's court. The visitors then arrive and are later introduced to Henry. Henry appears to mistake Belcredi's disguise for Peter Damian and reacts angrily, but is later calmed.

Act two begins with speculation among the visitors about Henry, as well as what he sees in Matilda, who argues constantly with Belcredi. Henry enters once more and his behaviour is increasingly erratic. Once the visitors arrive Henry declares to his councillors that he is not truly mad, but has been aware of the nature of his existence for some time. However he has preferred to stay as he was, than to live in the 20th century (the play is set in the 1920s). However, his behaviour and speech are still abnormal.

Upon learning of this revelation the visitors confront Henry, who acts angrily toward them, particularly Belcredi. At the end of the act he grabs Frida, who is dressed as in the portrait in preparation for the Doctor's plan to shock Henry out of his madness. In the ensuing altercation Henry stabs Belcredi. The visitors flee, and Henry resumes his regal persona as the curtain falls.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Henry IV (Pirandello)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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