"My Portrait Come to Life" – Visions of Self in Pirandello's Henry IV
Contribution to Book
Luigi Pirandello imbues the visual world of his 1922 play Henry IV with a vivid antiquarian texture. The Holy Roman Emperor's throne room, prop swords, and costumes are all painstakingly designed to replicate historical details of the eleventh century. As the audience comes to learn, however, the set's claim to be what it appears depends on frames of reality established by valets and counselors who soon reveal themselves as actors in an elaborate charade. We discover that the character of Henry IV is in fact an identity clung to by an otherwise unnamed man who bumped his head on a stone when he fell off his horse in a costumed cavalcade twenty years ago. Surrounded by his still-costumed fellow masqueraders, he then awoke into the belief that he was identical to his costumed image of the Holy Roman Emperor. Ever since, Henry's family has spared no expense setting him up in an Italian castle made over as the Royal Residence at Goslar. In order to be granted an audience with the monarch, visitors must dress up as historical personages of the eleventh century and adopt identities that conform to the spectacle. When "mad" Henry enters, everyone behaves as the visual world of the throne room demands. When Henry leaves, his valets light cigarettes; his counselors speak openly about his madness; the throne room's authenticity flickers while maintaining its regal décor.
Lisa Sarti, Michael Subialka
Farleigh Dickinson University Press
Gillette, K. (2017). "My portrait come to life" – Visions of self in Pirandello's Henry IV. In L. Sarti & M. Subialka (Eds.), Pirandello's visual philosophy: Imagination and thought across media (pp. 17-32). Madison, WI: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
Pirandello's Visual Philosophy: Imagination and Thought Across Media