Henry IV by Luigi Pirandello
Translated by Martha Witt & Mary Ann Frese Witt
"After the brilliant translation of Six Characters in Search of an Author, Mary Ann Witt and Martha Witt return to Pirandello with yet a bigger challenge: translating the complex play Henry IV and placing it next to The License, a much less performed work. The insightful and original introduction well supports this coupling, which is based on the theme of madness, so central in Pirandello’s production. An absolute must-read for understanding Pirandello’s work."
— Daniela Bini, University of Texas at Austin
"At once elegant and absorbing, subversive and vibrant, this superb translation of Pirandello’s story of the bankruptcy of reason and of the seeming pointlessness of life, is truly one ripping good read. Catching the humor of a desperately moving journey of self-invention and unpredictability, the translators skillfully succeed in bringing out Pirandello’s bleak and yet life-affirming creation of alternative worlds in a drama that — just like the short one-act play that accompanies it — tells us much about the human condition and society’s role in policing it."
— Valeria Finucci, Duke University
Luigi Pirandello’s Henry IV opened to general acclaim at the Teatro Manzoni in Milan on February 24, 1922, less than a year after his revolutionary theatrical achievement, Six Characters in Search of an Author. The title of the later play suggests a historical drama, recalling Shakespeare’s great history plays. Yet Henry IV is instead anti-historical in that it “plays with” history, presenting historical events not as sequential and true, but as simultaneous and as an imaginary refuge. Henry IV (whose real name is not given) lives in a fake medieval castle where everyone must wear the costume of a historical figure. He is a twentieth-century Italian aristocrat whose madness traps him in the role of the Holy Roman Emperor, the German Henry IV, who reigned from 1056 until 1105.
Pirandello’s one-act play The License (La Patente, 1918), displays an earlier version of this theme. Its main character, Rosario Chiarchiaro, may be mad or pretending to be mad as he also dons a costume and prepares to play a role for the rest of his life, the role of a purveyor of the “evil eye” — his means of self-defense against a society consumed by hypocrisy and superstition.
Martha Witt is an Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at William Paterson University. She is the author of the novel, Broken as Things Are (Holt, 2004/Picador, 2005). Her translations and short fiction have appeared in multiple anthologies and international literary journals.