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Pirandello, the Sacred, and the Death of Tragedy Nina daVinci Nichols ? When it is noticed at all, Pirandello's last, unfinished play / giganti della montagna (Mountain Giants) is described vaguely: as a culmination of his themes, or an existential manifesto, or a myth about the aesthetic imagination. While these generalizations may apply, they minimize an important set of ideas arising out of the dynamic relation between "inner" and "outer" dramas, that chief structural feature recurring in all of the theater plays. Quite predictably, many of these ideas subsume Pirandello's well known preoccupations with the existence of multiple realities, the theatricality ofconsciousness, and the creative process. They also, however, reflect a purpose more mystical than is implied by the loose term 'myth.' Clues to Pirandello's mystical bent at the time appear in biographical notes; in his strange essay about the sacred origins of Italian theater written as the Preface to a book on the subject;1 as well as in his other late plays on the theme of immortality . Even the submerged models I once identified for Pirandello's mage in this play—Shakespeare's Prospero and Nietzsche's Zarathustra—contribute to a sense of the play's mystical intentions, for Igiganti is atypically and densely allusive to other works, including his own.2 To abbreviate lengthy explication here, let me propose that the play subscribes to the modern mode which Elinor Fuchs has called the "mysterium."3 Named for its roots in the medieval Christian mystery play, the "mysterium" refers specifically to the prototypical form introduced by Strindberg's religious fairy-tale drama Easter and his To Damascus plays (1898-1901) while more generally embracing an otherworldly mood, an attunement to the prophetic, a longing for the "chant of the Infinite" that was audible in turn-of-the-century symbolist drama from which the "mysterium" most immediately springs. On one hand, the mode represents a "modern ana240 Nina da Vinci Nichols24 1 logue to the choric tragedy of ancient theater and comic form of medieval religious theater," two traits germane to Pirandello's premises in / giganti. At the same time, the "mysterium" alludes to its models "with a cunning irony, simultaneously embracing and distancing, even subverting their eschatological force." Twin planes of dramatic reality, one evoking the eternal history of mankind, the other the anecdotal experience of an individual, communicate directly so as to minimize the importance of a material actor and external appearances. As may be inferred, then, the mode includes aspects ofmodernist forms and impulses otherwise associated with expressionism, surrealism, existentialism, and other avant garde movements opposing realistic or naturalistic goals usually identified with, say, the early drama of Ibsen. Finally, the "mysterium" pattern of a journey toward salvation, thwarted and hindered by traffic in the mundane, suggests the quasi-allegorical teleology of redemption implicit in the mode's allusions to the ineffable as well as to the suffering and rejection dramatized in medieval Passion plays. Essentially static, / gigante* begins as a troupe of itinerant professional actors reach the end of long journeying at a ruined villa called Scalogna which is inhabited by aesthetic sprites like Shakespeare's Ariel.5 The troupe had been seeking the simple physical salvation of work in a town with a theater. Instead, the troupe discovers an existentialist utopia presided over by a mage called Cotrone and symbolizing either an eternal "within" or immaterial "beyond"—Scalogna borders on a country ofmaterialistic mountain giants hostile to art. While the two nearly allegorical sets of characters interact to express a constant dialectic between opposites—fancy and form, mind and body, passion and reason— the play's inclusive subject is the meaning of art in a fallen world. Pirandello long before had decided with Schlegel on the superiority ofimagination over reason, which is inadequate to apprehend life's highest values. By 1936, however, he wanted his abstract characters and the play's spectators as well to inhabit "the sacred dark of imagination where titans still live."6 In a word, he like Schlegel sought a mythology whose basis in human nature would at once combine the great mythologies of the past with new scientific knowledge of the psyche. The leader of the troupe, Countess...


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pp. 240-251
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