A theatre company is preparing to rehearse one of Pirandello’s plays, “which no one understood when it was written and which makes even less sense today” (Director, I). Before they are able to begin, however, the Characters enter and explain who they are, and that the author that created them had not been able to finish their play, and that they were in search of someone who would help them by finishing the job.
The director agrees, and the characters tell their story, demonstrating scenes that were to be played. Not long after the first scene is played, it appears that there is some disagreement between the Characters and the Company, regarding the direction that the scenes should take. The Characters argue that they way that the Company play their roles is not “real” enough, not “true” enough. Contrariwise, the Director argues that some license must be allowed for the physical and temporal restrictions that stage production puts on their “reality.”
The Characters insist on continuing their demonstration, culminating in the suicide of the Boy. The Company is horrified, some believing the child to be truly dead, others insisting that it was a trick. The Father replies to their questions with “What do you mean, a trick? It is reality, reality, ladies and gentlemen! Reality!” (Father, III). The Director, horrified and confused, calls for lights. When the lights have come up, the Characters are gone. Exasperated, the Director cries, “They’ve cost me a whole day of rehearsal!”
Point of Inciting Interest: The Characters appear during rehearsal and reveal that they are seeking someone to tell their story. The director agrees to help.
*The Director realizes that the Characters are not actors looking to rehearse, and that they expect him to serve as their author and write their play. After some discussion with the Father, he agrees to continue.
*At several points during the play, the Director is confronted with situations in which the Characters are unhappy with the scenery or the look or performance of the actors, or the direction that the Director is giving. Each time, there ensues a discussion on the “reality” of what the Company is portraying, versus the reality of the Characters’ story. Each time, the Characters eventually decide, reluctantly, to accept a less-than-perfect portrayal of their story. These crises have been condensed into one bullet point for conciseness.
The Boy, demonstrating the final scene, shoots himself and dies.
The Company is horrified. The Father explains to them simply that this is “reality, ladies and gentlemen!” The Director calls for lights and finds the Characters have gone. He then cancels the remaining rehearsal time and exits.
Pirandello takes on quite a challenging question in Six Characters. This question, of how reality can be defined, goes all the way back to Plato, with his Allegory of the Cave. While Pirandello does not answer that question, perhaps an ultimate answer is impossible to conceive, he does take it to a different level, and leaves the audience thinking.
This universal question, in Six Characters, takes on a great depth. We, the audience, are presented with two realities, and are asked to define which is more “real” of the two. On one side, we have the Company, composed of “real” people who create “fabricated” stories through their work on the stage. However, Pirandello gives them absolutely no depth. It is clear that they are merely vessels for portraying this “fiction,” creating real stories in their shows, but they seem to have no “real” stories of their own.
Contrariwise, the Characters, who are not “real” people, i.e. they have been “created” by some unknown Author; have a story, a life, that is much more “real” than those of the Company. Conflict ensues when the “reality” that is created by the Company does not acceptably conform to the exacting standards of the Characters. The problem is that the Company must conform to the physical and temporal limitations inherent in stage productions, and sometimes they do not fully grasp the nature of the Character that they are portraying. This bothers the Characters, as they feel that it affects the “reality” of their story, to have it altered. “But that’s not the way it really happened,” seems to be their continual complaint.
The question that Pirandello presents to us, and leaves us to ponder at the end of the play, is: “Which is more real, the “true” reality of the “fictional” Characters, or the “fictional” reality of the “real” Company? Being a non-dualist, I would personally argue that they are both real, however that is only my opinion. One final item that I will present for consideration is the religious connotation of the creator-deity figure, the Author. It is interesting to note, than when the Author of the Characters’ work is referred to, it is always Author, not author. The Characters are searching for an author to help them bring to life the story that was created by the Author. Perhaps Pirandello is drawing a subtle connection between the Characters’ quest, and our own search for “truth.” In the end of the play, the Characters vanish after completing their demonstration. Through their quest for self-definition, the Characters actually achieve self-definition. Perhaps Pirandello is trying to say that, in a circular fashion, it is our human quest to define ourselves that, in the end, defines us.