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Plays of the Italian theatre online

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I . ,
'*'. 'Jii



' I





"^ Mil



of the


Verga, Morselli, Lopez,

Translated by
Isaac Goldberg, Ph.D.



Copyright, 1921 by
L. E. Bassett



Professor of Romance Languages
IN Harvard University


Among the features that make the study of
Italian drama so interesting are the diversity of the
types, the numerous differences that divide the
critics and the more or less diffuse state in which the
institution still finds itself. We are prepared for the
cry of decadence that has filled half of the nineteenth
century and not a little of the twentieth; to be a
dramatic critic is almost synonymous, in all tongues,
with bewailing the low state into which the drama
has fallen. In Italy the matter has gone much
farther; there have not been lacking scholars who
deny the existence of a genuinely national stage, and
since Tulho Fornioni, in 1885, started the ball
a-rolling it has been given powerful shoves by such
writers as Mario Pilo, Salvatore Barzilai and V.
Morello. Only this year Signor Guido Ruberti, in
his closely packed two-volume book upon "II
Teatro Contemporaneo in Europa,^' renews the
discussion and in his section upon the realistic
Italian drama (1,211) declares bluntly, ''The truth
is that Italy has never had a truly national theatre. "
He goes on to state, in the ensuing commentary,
that there is, in the very nature of the Italian people,
a certain quality that is anti-dramatic in effect; the
spiritual and material difficulties experienced by the
nation while other countries wei"e conquering a
greater or less degree of liberty caused it to turn in

VI Introduction

upon itself, accustoming it perforce to a "singular
mental habit of adaptation and conciliation; a
remarkable equilibrium that succeeds in fusing
within itself the most diverse tendencies, harmoniz-
ing them in a supreme ideal which is neither skepti-
cism nor austere faith, neither absolute indiffer-
entism nor unreflecting passion, yet feeds upon and
communicates all these." The Italian conscience,
moreover, unhke the Anglo-Saxon and the Slav,
finds its great problems settled in advance by its
creed, thus removing, or at least greatly modifying,
one of the mainsprings of dramatic action. In the
powerful scenes of passionate crime the critic sees
but added proof of the primitiveness of his people;
upon them, he tells us, the currents of modern
thought make httle impression.

For much of the delay in the achieving of a
national theatre the influence of France is blamed,
the same France in whom Spanish-American critics
fear a similar denationaUzing influence and who,
according to Brazilian writers, is Gallicizing the
immense Portuguese-speaking republic to our south.
Again, the presence of so many well defined regions,
each with its own psychology, its own pride, its own
determination to preserve its spiritual autonomy,
acts as a hindrance to the formation of a distinctly
recognizable national drama. The Italian dialect
stage is an important institution; Rome, Sicily,
Milan, Bologna, Venice, Naples — these are, from
the dramatic standpoint, fairly nations within a
nation, and even the better known Italian dramatists

Introduction vil

are proud to write for them. Of the writers repre-
sented in this collection, for example, Verga and
Pirandello are intimately related to their native
Sicily, as is Sabatino Lopez to his Tuscan birth-

If, then, it is yet a problem whether Italy's drama
be truly national as an institution, there is far less
doubt as to whether good plays have been written by
Italians; the stage flourishes, even if at times the
native product is strangely absent. And in this
activity the part of the one-act play is singularly
important, as the Italian audience is used to wit-
nessing more than one play a night, and has a fond-
ness for the curtain-raiser. Of late there has arisen
the custom of devoting an entire evening to a pro-
gram of one-act plays, so that the native playwrights
consider the short form a legitimate and worthy
object of their endeavor, approaching it with con-
science and interest. They have imparted to the
concentrated drama all the various novelties that
have come out of France and the North; now it is a
bit of unacclimated Ibsenism, as in Giacosa's
^'Diritti dell' anima," again, the latest type of
cerebralized thriller as in F. Maria Martini's ''Ridi,
Pagliaccio^'; Marinetti, indeed, in his futuristic
orgasms, has evolved a type of drama that requires
but a page or two of print.

The plays included in this collection have been
chosen primarily for readableness arid accessibility
to the taste and resources of the small theatre audi-
ence and producer.





The Wolf-Hunt 4


Water Upon Fire 38

Gastone, The Animal Tamer .... 78


The Sparrow 128


S1CILLA.N Limes 162


(1840— )

The octogenarian figure of Giovanni Verga is
intimately associated, in the history of Italian
letters, with the movement that is known in the
peninsula as " verismo, " and out of it as realism and
naturalism. Verism, of course, has its distinguishing
characteristics, but it is part of the great anti-roman-
tic reaction and in Verga found such vigorous, artis-
tic expression that even today more than one of the
"young" writers is not ashamed to acknowledge the
influence of the aged dean. Labels have mattered
little to him. ''Words, words, words, " he once said.
''Naturalism, psychologism ! There's room for
everything, and the work of art may be born of any
'ism'. Let it be born — that is the main thing!"
The man has always been of a retiring disposition,
disliking the appelation "verist" as much as Ibsen
ever hated the term Ibsenite; indeed, when a year
ago his country honored him on his eightieth birth-
day, many thought that he had died long before,
and they had to be informed all over again that his
"I Malavoglia" (1881) was one of the best novels of
its centurv, and that its author was one of the most
solid glories of latter-day Italian hterature. That he
was the author of the intense "Cavalleria Rusti-
cana" (Rustic Chivalry) out of which was made the

2 Giovanni Verga

libretto of Mascagni's melodious opera was matter
of more common knowledge. Yet Verga's position as
a playwright, if we except this dramatization of one
of his own Sicilian tales, is secondary.

He was born in Catania, and began his career as
a writer of conventional novels redolent of the
French feuilletons. Yet in a deeper sense the work
of Verga is a psychological unity, and close study of
the early books shows the young Verga to be father
to the older. The novel that caps his creations,
*'I Malavoglia, " was intended to be the first of a
trilogy devoted to a study of what he named ''the
vanquished" {i vinti) but after the second of the
series, ''Don Mastro-Gesualdo, " he appears to have
given up the project, unless, as a French critic has
suggested, we are to take his novel '' Dal Tuo al Mio"
(later made by him into a play) as the closing volume.

There seems, in Verga's work, to be a certain
parallel to the labors of that Thomas Hardy whose
life, too, runs parallel to the great Italian's. In both
the same underlying pessimism, in both the same
softening pity. An Italian critic, Carlo Linati, has
also suggested Verga's affinity to Synge, for his deep
insight into the fives of the humble fishermen. By
these tokens we are in the presence of an enduring
figure whose influence among the more serious of the
newer novelists is strong and salutary.

Verga's atmosphere is naturally in good measure
that of his native scene, where fife is fived amidst a
ferocious intensity of passions and a powerful befief
in fate. His so-called impersonafity should not mis-

Giovanni Verga 3

lead his readers, however. 'It is not to satisfy a
Flaubertian esthetics," writes Luigi Russo in his
recent book upon Verga, ''that the author of
'Cavalleria Rusticana' tries not to intervene in his
tale; it is because his model, the Sicilian peasant, is
convinced that he himself does not intervene in the
conduct of his own hfe. "

Guido Ruberti, in his new book upon *'I1 Teatro
Contemporaneo in Europa," accords to the stage
version of ''Cavalleria Rusticana" an importance to
Italian dramaturgy comparable to the significance
of '' I Malavoglia " to the Italian novel. " The entire
theatrical production of Giovanni Verga," he writes,
"is contained in a Httle volume of pocket size, about
four hundred pages long; yet there will come a day
when we'll go back to it to discover inside the sin-
cerest and most artistic representation of hfe that
our theatre produced toward the close of the nine-
teenth century. "

The sketch included in this collection was pub-
lished in 1902. Verga's other plays include ''In
Portineria" (At The Porter's Lodge), "La Lupa"
(The She-Wolf), "Dal Tuo al Mio" (Thine and


LoLLO. Mariangela,



A Dramatic Sketch

Scene: A shepherd's hut. A night of wind and
rain— the time when wolves are abroad. From the
entrance door, at the left, comes the sound of repeated



[All upset, and hut half dressed, hurriedly
closing the kitchen door.]
I'm coming! I'm coming! I'm in bed. A moment
till I dress.

[At last she goes to open the door and finds
herself face to face with hollo, dripping water,
his gun in hand and his countenance grim.
For a moment he stands rigidly upon the
threshold, looking about with restless, sus-
pecting eyes. Outside the tempest rages.
The wife, confronted by her husband at this
unwonted hour, in such weather, and noting
his strange looks, begins to quiver like a leaf,
and can scarcely summon the strength to


6 The Wolf-Hunt

What happened? What's the trouble?

[He does not answer, not even with an oath. He
is a man of few words, particidarly when in
an ugly mood. He grumbles unintelligibly
and continues to 'peer out of his troubled eyes
into every corner. The lamp is upon the
table; the bed made as it should be; the door to
the kitchen is crossed by a bar, within are
cocks and hens, scared by the storm, as might
he expected, and making a great hubbub.
The poor wife's confusion is increased by all
this, and she dares not even look into her
husband's face.

Good Lord! What a fright you gave me!


[First of all he closes the door securely, then
hangs his hood upon a hook and wipes the
gun-lock with his handkerchief. He mutters.]

Oh, fine! So I frighten you, do I? Your own
husband scares you now?


In this terrible storm! Has there been some acci-
dent in the sheepfold? How do you happen to come
back at this hour?


[Circling about here and there, slowly, like a
spectre, dragging along his peasant shoes,
poking the muzzle of his gun into every nook.
His wife follows him about, in anxiety.]

The Wolf-Hunt 7

I'm going about my affairs. Let me have some
light there, behind the bed. What the devil are you
shivering about? Haven't you enough courage in
you tonight to hold the lamp straight?



Can't you tell me what you're looking for?


Let me have light, I say.

See, there's nothing here.


Oh, yes there is. There must be. Here.

[He stoops and picks up a hit of wood hardly
more than six inches long.]

And you came for this?


[With an ambiguous laugh.]

For this and for something else. It must be there.
[Pointing to the kitchen door in the background.] It's
surely in there.

[Strides toward the door to open it. Mariangela,
fairly terror-stricken, ashen white, spreads
out her arms and bars his ivay.]

What are you looking for? Can't you tell me?

8 The Wolf-Hunt


Certainly. Of course. Why shouldn't I tell you?


[All aquiver.]

Tell me what you need. I'll get it for you. I'm
your wife, am I not?


Certainly. You're my wife. Exactly. You go
ahead of me with the light. Open that door, now!
[All at once he springs upon her and seizes the light,
which she was about to drop.] Ehi, Mariangela! You
want to leave me in the dark — so that I sha'n't find


[In confusion, stammering.]

There's so much wood inside there! I'm afraid
something might happen if I went in there with a
light. Tell me what you need. Perhaps I can get it


[After a momenfs hesitation.]

Here. I'm looking for a cord, so that I can tie it
to the tip of this bit of wood.

Do you want my apron-strings? Will they do?


Yes! With a woman's apron-strings you can tie
even the devil himself!

The Wolf-Hunt 9

[He puts the lamp hack upon the table, leans
the gun against the wall, and sits down in the
chair nearby, inclined forward, his legs
spread apart, his arms hanging between his
thighs. He is silent. Mariangela removes
her apron and hands it to him; he throws it
upon the table beside the wood. In the mean-
time his wife places before him bread, wine,
cheese, and even his pipe filled with tobacco,
for she is so upset that she doesn't know what
she is doing.]

What can you be thinking about? Whereas your
head? One thing at a time, stupid!

[He takes out his knife from his pocket, opens it,
and begins to eat slowly, his back to the wall
and his nose pointing downward. From time
to time he raises his head and glances toward
the kitchen door with a look that his wife
follows anxiously.]
Have you seen Bellama?


[With a start she drops what she is serving and
begins to stammer.]

No. Why? I haven't seen him.


[Grumbles something and pours out wine.]

Mariangela. .

Why do you ask? What's Bellama got to do with

lo The Wolf-Hunt


[He wipes his mouth with his hand and looks
at her as if he hasnH heard her question, out
of lightless eyes that say nothing. He lights
his pipe calmly; so calmly that the poor
woman gets more and more confused, sud-
denly falling upon her knees before him to
loosen laces of his shoes. He thrusts her hack
with a kick, muttering:]
What are you doing now?

I want to dry your feet. You're soaking wet.


Never mind. I^m going out again.


[With a sigh of relief.]
Ah! YouVe got something to do?


[Raising his head and for an instant glaring at
her. Then, with an ironic smile.]

Certainly. I'm going to the feast.

[He continues to smoke, spitting now and then
in any direction.]


[Silently clears the table, trembling. All at once
she stutters.]
You talk so queerly this evening. And with such
a look!

The Wolf-Hunt ii


I say I've got something to do — with the Musar-
ras. They're waiting for me nearby. We have a wolf
to catch tonight.


A wolf?


Yes. We've been on his trail for so long! I've
laid the trap for him. A sure trap. Why, if any
fellow is caught in that trap, the devil himself
couldn't get him out. And now he's fallen into it!
Believe me, I wouldn't want to be in his hide while
I'm talking to you now!


[Instinctively she first casts an anxious glance
toward the kitchen door, and then at her
husband, who is not even looking at her. He
is intent upon his pipe, relishing it, as if
already tasting the pleasure of having caught
the wolf. There is a crash of thunder — a
flash lights up the scene vividly. She crosses
herself \

What a night, Lord Jesus!


This is the kind of weather in which all the wicked
beasts go prowling about on their evil tricks. But
this time the wolf leaves his hide with us. So says
your good friend Lollo!

12 The Wolf-Hunt

[A noise is heard suddenly from behind the
kitchen door; he seizes his gun.]
Who's there?


[More dead than alive.]
It must be the hens that I shut up in the kitchen
— on account of the storm.


I guess they're scared, too — Uke you. Look,
how pale you are! [He pours wine for her.] Have a
drop of wine.


No. I haven't the sHghtest appetite.


Then Fll drink it.

[He drinks, then hegins to whittle the wood with
his pocket-knife, whistling away, blowing,
deeply intent upon his work, and tying the
apron-string to one end of the stick.]


[Feigning deep attention so as to conceal her
perturbation; her elbows upon the table, her
chin resting upon her palms, she eyes him
fixedly, seeking to read his inscrutable
And what's that you're making?


[Without looking at her, and continuing to blow
and whistle.]

The Wolf-Hunt 13

This? What this is? This is the biscuit that'll
close the wolf's mouth. I ought to have another one
for you, I ought. Ah! Ah! You're laughing now?
The color has come back to your cheeks? You
women are like cats; you have nine lives. [He tugs
violently at the apron-string to test its strength.] Will
this snap when he pulls at it with all his might? No.
Your string is mighty strong! [Mariangela continues
to stare at him, to discover what he is hiding; she rubs
against him, just like a cat, with a palpitating bosom
and a pale smile upon her features.] Steady now,
stand still. You'll knock over the lamp. Oil brings


[With an outburst, almost in tears.]

You bet it brings misfortune! What's the matter
with you tonight? Speak, in God's name!


Nothing the matter with me. Do you see anything


I see that you have something against me — with-
out any reason!


Ho, ho! Now you're getting angry! You know
everything, you do!

Mariangela. ^
As if I were a child! You tell me a tale about a

14 The Wolf-Hunt


A tale? You'll see! It's as true as God above!
You'll enjoy it, too, when we've caught him!


Oh! no! Not I!


Why not? Aren't you my wife?


[Embarrassed, her eyes moist with tears, about
to take his hand but losing her courage.]

Yes! Your wife — who loves you so!


Good. And the harm that's done to me is harm
done to you, too, isn't it?


You are the master. [Nodding affirmatively.] You
are my master!


Then let me do as I see fit, and have no fear.


It's for you that I fear. I haven't anybody else in
the world!


Oh, don't worry on my score. I'll take good care
of my hide! A fine thing that would be! To bear
the harm and the jests, too? No, indeed! I've
found friends who are going to lend me a hand.

The Wolf-Hunt 15

[Laughing.] As a matter of fact, I'm having him
caught by their hands. He's a dangerous beast, I'll
have you know! He bites when he's cornered! I
want to teach him his lesson in my own way, without
risking my sldn.

What a heart you must have !


And don't you reckon the bile that's been put into
it? [Whether it is the wine that has loosened his
tongue, or whether he finds pleasure in slowly chevjing
and rechewing the hile that he must have within him —
or whether he really wishes to tell his wife the tale of
the wolf, so as to quiet her, he continues to chatter like
a magpie, scratching his rough chin and almost falling
asleep on the chair.] You want to know how it's done?
Listen. You dig a nice deep ditch, hidden beneath
dry twigs, and then cover the bed with boughs and
leaves and put into the trap a lamb to lure him.
The moment he sniffs the fresh flesh he comes trip-
ping gaily along, as if to a wedding. On he comes,
his snout in the air! And his eyes sparkle with
desire! But once he has crashed into the pitfall he
can't so much as touch the lamb, for he has other
things to think about.


[Suspicious, closely scrutinizing his face through
her smiling eyes so as to hide her inner commo-
tion, pointing to the stick of wood.]
And what's that for?

i6 The Wolf-Hunt


That's stuck into his mouth so that he can't
bite. One of the men lowers it into the hole, and
as soon as the wolf has bitten it, another fellow
quickly passes the string behind his ears and ties it
to the other end of the gag. Then comes the best
part of all.

[The tempest at this point seems about to carry
off the hovel. There is a noise in the kitchen.
A gust of wind puts out the lamp.]


[Screams, adding to the confusion, and stumbles
toward the kitchen door.]

Santa Barbara! Santa Barbara! Wait. I'm look-
ing for some matches. Where are you now?


[Who has jumped to the door at the left, with
his gun in hand, threateningly.]

Stand!' Quiet, now! Don't move, do you hear?
[He strikes the linch-pin, as green as the match in his
hands, and lights the lamp.] Calm yourself. Calm
yourself. Don't make such a racket over nothing.

[Reaches to the hook for his hood.]

Are you going?


You see I am.

The Wolf-Hunt 17

Will you be back soon?


Why do you care to know whether I'll be back
early or late?

Like that — to wait for you — to stay up for "you,


No. Go to bed. You were already in bed when
I came.




You said so yourself. Go back to bed, then, and
commend your soul to God, without fear, for he who
is in the grace of God fears nothing. I can't tell
you whether I'll come back soon or late.

I have done nothing wrong.


So much the better. Who does no wrong has no
harm to fear.

[He takes the key out of the table drawer.]

What? Are you locking me in?

i8 The Wolf-Hunt


Yes. So that you won't have to get out of bed
again when I return.


[Nonplussed, throwing her arms around his

No! No!


What does this mean?


[Pressi7ig fondly against him.]

Don't leave me! Don't leave me like this! I'm
afraid! Better come to bed. It's so cold! Don't
you feel it?


To bed? No. No. JNIany thanks. First. No!
To bed? No! The sleepyhead catches no fish.


Don't you care for me any more? Don't my words
mean anytliing to you any more? Can't you see
what a state I'm in?


Yes, I see. I see. But I must be going now. The
Musarras are waiting for me. The father and son,
right near here. You know that son of Musarra,
whom they all call crazy because his wife ran away
from him with Bellama, Bellama who plays the
rooster with other men's wives. You know him.

The Wolf-Hunt 19


[Confused, stammering.]


Yes, you know him. Well, when Bellama had got
all he wanted he left IMusarra's wife in the lurch, the
poor woman, for she really went crazy! Left her
husband, at least, after he has washed his hands in
the blood of the seducer. . . .

Lord Jesus! Jesus!


Ah, Jesus? To have a wife that's everything to a
poor man — to cherish her as if she were a child —
to give her your very blood and hide to make slippers
of, and then see her give herself to the first man that
asks for her! But let me go. What do you want?


[Her hands joined in supplication, Jier voice


What do you want? Speak up!


Lollo! Look me straight in the face! [She sinks to
her knees before him and tries to take his hand.] Let
me kiss your hand — as if you were merciful Jesus!

20 The Wolf-Hunt


[Freeing himself.]

How tender this evening! You have plenty of
tears on tap. Let me be off, I tell you! Out of my
way! [As he opens the door Mariangela tries to
escape. He seizes her by the arm and roughly shoves
her hack into the hut.] Hey there! AMiere are you
going? You wait for me here!

[He leaves, locking the door behind him.]


[Tearing her hair.]

Why? What's up? Virgin Mary!

[Pale and uneasy he peers through the kitchen
door, then enters on tiptoe, speaking in a
lowered voice to Mariangela as he goes by.]

Good-bye. Good-bye.


[In raging dismay.]

Is that how you, too, desert me?


[Trying to open the outer door,]

Ah, my dear woman! This is no time for tender

w^ords! Your husband might come back at any

moment! [Pushing against the door in vain.] The

deuce of a door!


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Online LibraryIsaac GoldbergPlays of the Italian theatre → online text (page 1 of 8)