By Fiora A. Bassanese
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Additional resources for Understanding Luigi Pirandello
German theater critic Renate Matthaei considers Ciampa's entire physical appearance a disguise, from his piercing spectacled eyes to his messy hair and ill-fitting petit bourgeois apparel. This masking attitude necessarily brings into question the sincerity of all the character's responses. Is Ciampa's desperation in act 2 a ruse or sincere emotion? Is his verbal construction of a new pupo, the avenging husband, just as false and expedient as Beatrice's new pupa, the madwoman? Whatever the answer, the constructed persona will prevail, preserving the fiction of respectability for them all.
The first years of their marriage were not unhappy, however, and the couple had three children and a comfortable life financed by the Pirandello mining interests in Sicily. Besides producing a steady stream of reviews, articles, and fiction, in 1897 Pirandello also accepted a post at the women's Istituto Superiore di Magistero, or teachers' college, in Rome, to provide better for his growing family. Yet there was a cheerless quality to the writer's life. On the surface he was a most proper and dapper professional who dressed exclusively in grey and exuded a law-abiding, family-oriented, bourgeois persona, but the surface disguised a deep-seated nihilism.
Pirandello compounds this impression of familiarity by mounting the two-act drama in an equally conventional setting: the richly furnished drawing room of Fiorica's provincial home. The unconventional touch in Cap and Bells is provided by its central character: the Fioricas' clerk, Ciampa, one of numerous Pirandellian eccentrics. Ciampa is not an ignorant peasant but a sophisticated thinker who suddenly finds his entire world at risk because of Beatrice's lack of thought. 13 Through the years Ciampa has managed to construct a fragile existential equilibrium for himself in a difficult situation.