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Shakespearean and Pirandellian: Hamlet and Six Characters in Search of an Author MAURICE CHARNEY Since there has been so much "throwing about of brains" (II.ii. 366-67)I in Hamlet, it is not amiss that we should pose some difficult questions about the relation of Pirandello and Shakespeare. We are not primarily interested in how Shakespearean was Pirandello, but rather in the opposite side of the equation: how Pirandellian was Shakespeare? This historical question forces Shakespeare into a fortuitous and willy-nilly relationship with Pirandello, which is the best way to study how the later writer could have influenced the earlier one. In a literal sense he could not possibly have influenced him at all, yet there is an affinity ofmind and temperament that cannot be overlooked. Ifwe put aside for the moment the obstacle of historical relation, the Shakespearean and the Pirandellian are two analogous modes of a theatrical probing ofreality, and the plays of Shakespeare and Pirandello can be made to comment on each other. Most obviously, Pirandello's Henry IV relates to Shakespeare's Hamlet,2 yet the masculine-feminine games of Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew and its illusionistic frame play resemble Pirandello's self-conscious theatrical experiments . In A Midsummer Night's Dream the imaginative displacements of the forest world are very much in the Pirandellian mode. But let us narrow our focus to Hamlet and Six Characters in Search of an Author, in which there is a remarkable similarity in the central experience. Both plays are speculative, rationalizing, passionate, and self-conscious. Their characters are great self-explainers and self-justifiers, but not necessarily sympathetic. The central idea in both works is that one cannot separate real life from the histrionic events of a play - the two are equally plotted and unpredictable. But the play world reveals truths that would otherwise remain hidden. Truth is passionately conceived; it is not an abstraction. The characters press on to their doom despite their own relentless awareness of selfdestruction . It is no coincidence that the actors in Six Characters are rehearsing Pirandello's Rules ofthe Game when they are suddenly interrupted by the six MAURICE CHARNEY characters. Leone Gala in Rules of the Game is Pirandello's exemplar of the stoical man, who nevertheless suffers intensely from his forcibly willed separation from his wife. Like Hamlet, Leone values "the play of the intellect that clarifies the chaos of your passions, that outlines clearly and precisely all that moves within you so tumultuously."3 But the intellect does not operate in some higher intellectual sphere. The chaos of the passions is its natural arena, the mysterious inner world "that moves within you so tumultuously." This prepares us for Leone's brilliant image ofthe passions as wild beasts, an image colored by the classical topos of Actaeon being tom apart by his own hounds: Do you think I have no feelings, no emotions? Of course I do. But I never let them get away from me. I seize them, I dominate them and I nail them up. Have you ever seen a trainer at work in a cage full of wild beasts? That's what I am, Silia: a lion tamer. But even as I play this part, I can stand aside and laugh at myself in my chosen role. And I confess that sometimes I have a terrible temptation to give in, to let myself be tom apart by one of these savage beasts. (p. 128) It is typical ofPirandello to derogate the powers of the reason and the intellect. They are not powerful enough to rule the passions or to give a meaningful direction to one's life. Pirandello's raisonneurs, like Laudisi in/tIs So! (IfYou Think So), are always seen to be men of ironically limited vision, because their rationality insulates them from the events they pretend to understand and, by not taking sides, they seem smug and complacent. Rules ofthe Game lays the basis for understanding Six Characters, which is in a sense an extension of the earlier play. Now the six characters and not just Leone's wife demand their right of self-expression, which is tantamount to the right to...


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pp. 323-329
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