The Uber-Marionette on Stage

Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author is an exploration of the realities faced by characters without actors. It is a what-if scenario about what might happen if an audience were able to perceive the life of an author’s work in progress that has been abandoned. The characters struggle to achieve wholeness and completion. Edward Gordon Craig’s concept of the Uber-Marionette, as presented in his On the Art of the Theatre can be a useful tool for understanding Pirandello’s play. This paper will examine the ways in which the characters from Six Characters in Search of an Author resemble and support Craig’s concept of the Uber-Marionette.
One of the primary concerns of Craig’s concept of the Uber-Marionette was that actors were tainting the performance of any given character with the color of their own personality (Craig 61). Craig proposed to replace actors with puppets to eliminate this weakness. Of course he wasn’t under any delusion that this was possible, but in the world of Six Characters, the characters who present themselves to The Manager are just that. That is not say that the characters are puppets, but they abide by the purpose of the concept. They are characters without the added tint of actors. They represent what might be possible with only characters and not actors on stage.
These characters are the embodiment of Craig’s Uber-Marionette. They represent the capabilities of characters without the difficulty of actors. They are the characters from the page set directly on the stage. Even in the text of the play, the Manager calls the other characters “puppets to represent instead of men” (Pirandello 639). He is mistakenly trying to motivate actors to play characters by citing Craig’s very argument. It is, of course, a moot point, because he does not realize he is speaking to characters and not actors. The Father made this abundantly clear when he said of the actor attempting to play him, “It will be difficult to act me as I really am. The effect will be rather…according as to how he supposes I am as he senses me…and not as I inside myself feel myself to be” (Pirandello 649).
Pirandello was writing at a time when Craig’s On the Art of the Theatre was fresh in the theatrical discourse. It seems apparent that he was aware of it. The Manager is attempting to warn the actors not to become puppets. It isn’t until a few lines later that the Manager finally begins to grasp that he is dealing with characters rather than actors, though he never seems to fully accept it. He has the puppets and must become the puppet master. Even the characters will him to use them in this way. The Father says, “We want to live” (Pirandello 639). He is referring to the incompleteness of their state. They are created characters without a resolved plot. They are puppets with no show.
In this play, Pirandello explored the concept of having characters on stage instead of actors. He addressed comically how the characters might behave, how a theatre manager might respond to them, and what some of their capabilities might be. This presents his audience with a paradox. Characters exist in reality. They take physical shape in the form of words on the page. By bringing those characters into corporeal existence, he gave them a new kind of shape, a new reality, but he has not conjured them out of thin air. They existed before. In this case, they existed within the mind of the author who has apparently left them unresolved. Craig’s reason for creating the concept of the Uber-Marionette was that actors were dangerously close to being unable to present the existence of a given character accurately. He wrote, “…it is only the actor, the ventriloquist, or the animal-stuffer who, when they speak of putting life into their work, mean some actual and life-like reproduction…” (Craig 63). There was no consistency in performance of a given character. There was no reality in facsimile. If there is no consistency and no reality, then the character cannot be said to truly exist. Actors had stifled the existence of the characters by playing them rather than being them. They were not creating art, but rather attempting to mimic nature.
Craig purports that an actor is likely to be influenced by his emotions to say something other than that which is contained in the text. He gave the example of the actor who says, “I could easier just appear, and say something instinctive…” (Craig 59). For this actor, the character has no physical shape. It does not exist. Only he, the actor, breathes life into the lifeless words of the playwright. This is in direct opposition to the characters in Pirandello’s play. They are pure characters. They have life and breath. They interact with the Manager. They are representatives of the existence of characters who cannot, in our world, take physical form without the assistance of actors and a playwright.
This is one of the ways in which Pirandello and Craig seem to agree so well. Craig was not advocating for the elimination of actors from theatre, but rather warning that without some laws to govern theatre, acting could not be considered an art (Craig 67). It is not perfectible. With no standard, there can be no basis to judge what is quality theatre and what is not. The Stepdaughter character in Six Characters suggests that the playwright abandoned them “in a fit of depression, of disgust for the ordinary theatre as the public knows it and likes it” (Pirandello 657). This suggests a critique, on the part of Pirandello, of the state of modern theatre. Likewise, the Father states, “…that which is a game of art for you, is our sole reality” (Pirandello 655). The Father is pleading with the Manager, who is still having trouble believing that the characters are indeed only characters, to take the staging of the play seriously. It is, and will ever be, the characters’ lasting reality. It is the respect that Pirandello shows for characters that agrees most with Craig. Only the pure character and not the character as seen through the actor is reality.
Like Craig, Pirandello in his Six Characters, seems to critique modern theatre. He calls into question the existence of characters and blurs the line between what is possible and impossible. Six Characters is often referred to as absurdist in genre, but it rather seems like an exploration of Craig’s idea of the Uber-Marionette. It creates the reality in which such a thing is possible and then examines how exactly it might play out. Pirandello sought to accomplish the same things as Craig. He called into question modern theatre practices, he challenged actors to portray the reality of the characters they so often simply represent, and he provided an inner-dialogue or a window into the reality of the characters as they exist. Pirandello’s characters are aware, in an almost eerie way, of their complicated existence. They know they are not actors. As the Step-Daughter suggests, they are also apparently aware of the thoughts of their creators. They are almost god-like in that respect. This is likely intentional. Both Craig and Pirandello attempted to instill the character with some mystique that might lead to a more reverent approach on the part of actors. It is not clear that either succeeded in doing so, but the ideas remain and are now, like the six characters, immortal.

Works Cited
Craig, Edward G. On the Art of the Theatre. London: n.p., 1911. Questia, 2012. Web. 6 Oct. 2012. .
Pirandello, Luigi. “Six Characters In Search of an Author.” The Bedford Introduction to Drama. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford, 1997. 634-59. Print.

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