Six Characters in Search of an Author  

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metatheatre, play-within-a-play

Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921, Sei personaggi in cerca d'autore) is the most famous play of Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello. It premiered in Rome on May 9, 1921 and was first published in 1925. It is similarly themed to A Sensation Novel (1871) and is a touchstone in the history of metafiction, and metatheatre in particular.



The play was staged in 1921 by the Compagnia di Dario Niccomedi at the Valle di Roma to mixed results. The public split up into supporters and adversaries, the latter of whom shouted: "Asylum, Asylum!" The author, who was present at the presentation with his daughter Lietta, was forced almost literally to run out of the theatre through a side exit in order to avoid the crowd of enemies. This same drama, however, was a great success when presented at Milan.


In Six Characters in Search of an Author, the audience is confronted with the unexpected arrival of six characters during the rehearsals for a play (incidentally, one of Pirandello's own) who insist on being given life, on being allowed to tell their story. Pirandello describes how this concept came about in the preface to the published work: an abortive attempt at a play which he gave up on after realising that "I have already afflicted my readers with hundreds and hundreds of stories. Why should I afflict them now by narrating the sad entanglements of these six unfortunates?" The characters, however, already extant in his mind were "creatures of my spirit, these six were already living a life which was their own and not mine any more, a life which it was not in my power any more to deny them."


The play spends much time vividly demonstrating the limitations of the theatre as a medium of story-telling. Thus the play can be regarded as simply an exercise in the now much-explored realm of meta-theatre; however, it also delves into the larger questions of defining existence and hints at the responsibilities inherent in creativity.

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