Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Naked Masks - Luigi Pirandello (Part 1: Liola)

According to Eric Bently (1952) Liola is a dream play. It takes place in an imagined vacuum, isolated from the horrors of a world war, presenting at the surface, a discussion about paternity; but between the lines is an ontological query into how and what we perceive as truth and the impact this has on our philosophy of life.

"Pirandello has dreamed himself away from the problems of Agrigento in 1916 it is back into the Agrigento of another day. The breath of happy paganism is felt in his play, which is the last Sicilian pastoral."(Bently, 1952) Pirandello's greatest creation is the character of Liola, a joyful, passionate, idealist and perhaps the only morally positive (ie being an agent rather than victim to fate) character Pirandello breathed life into.

To say Liola is a bit of a ladies man would be an understatement, it seems like he can't sashay into a room without impregnating all women in his path. He is a free spirit, whistling a tune wherever he goes, unshackled to societal demands or expectations. He pursues love, but has no interest in commitment and as the play opens, his three little sons, each from a different mother sit helping their grandmother shell almonds.

Ostensibly the play is about Tuzzu's  attempt to take revenge on Mita, who has been blessed with both a rich husband (Uncle Simone), and the gallant lover (Liola.) Tuzza of course is ignoring the constant abuse Mita must endure from Simon for her inability to produce an heir and overlooking the fact that while Mita might be enjoying the attentions from Liola that she wishes were hers, the only reason Liola is pursuing Mita is because she is practically speaking unavailable.

Tuzza's plan, now that she has become pregnant, is to claim that the father is Uncle Simone. Simone, so desperate for an heir will publicly acknowledge the child as his own and then Mita will be cast off leaving all the wealth, power and glamour for Tuzza alone. All goes according to plan and Tuzza, steeping in the bitterness of unrequited love eases her heartache with a little guile.

As Liola comes waltzing into the scene, a tune on his lips, a trails of maidens in his wake, he's asked if this is how he intends to find his queen, his flagrant disregard for conventional romance being overlooked. His response and the fulcrum on which the play hinges is:

"Who says I haven't found her already and she simply doesn't know why I laugh and sing this way? Pretending is a virtue. 'If you can't pretend, you can't be king.'"

Liola is the expert pretender. The only moment of transparency comes when he dutifully goes to Tuzza's mother to ask for her hand in marriage, knowing that yet another son is destined to be born and unaware of her sinister plot.

"...I can't live caged up, Aunt Crice, I'm a bird that must fly - here today, there tomorrow, in the sun, the water, the wind. I sing and am drunk - on song and sun - I hardly know which affects me more. Far all that, here I am: clipping my wings and have come to shut myself in a cage of my own making. I am asking for your daughter Tuzza's hand."

Tuzza refuses to have anything to do with him. What good is a nomadic idealist when she can have wealth and stability. Love is just a feeling destined to ruin all in its path.

After a few impassioned speeches between Liola and Tuzza's mother, Liola professing the enormity of his love for his young sons and assuring Tuzza's mother he will provide for Tuzza and her child, Tuzza's mother tells him that Tuzza doesn't want him, which Liola demands that Tuzza, herself proclaim, in the presence of Uncle Simone.

Liola says he wouldn't want to commit an outrage, but he also wouldn't like others to commit an outrage and make use of him, which is exactly what Tuzza has planned. She has successfully turned Simone against Mita, and now Mita has nowhere to turn, floating precariously on the flotsam of uncertainty.

Liola has a plan. Since he's given Tuzza a child destined to take over Simone's estate...why not give Mita one as well? At first outraged by this plan, Mita soon realizes that this is her only hope and after a short time she reclaims her place in her husbands house, pregnant with another mans child. Simone is only too happy to have an heir and despite the subterfuge, chooses to believe the child is his despite his record of impotence.

Act II ends with Uncle Simone muttering under his breath: "In the country when it is dark, a man is easily deceived!" Thinking he had seen someone creeping into the house (Liola) that Mita is staying at, but quickly reassuring himself that he was just seeing things. Again, belief is what you choose it to be. It is not a fundamental, universal fact, but rather, like Proteus, an amorphous, shape shifting water demon.

As the play comes to an end, one deceit piled high upon another, Simone has renounced Tuzza's child and happily accepts Mita's in its stead. While love between a man and a woman can be tempestuous and opaque, the love Liola has for his son is transparent and constant. Despite his many flaws, Pirandello presents Liola as an archetype for fatherhood.

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