Literature and art have always provided a tool to interpret and make sense of events. Major works such as El Quijote and Hamlet enable us to better understand complicated and contradictory realities. We are now living a confusing moment where a sitting president is trying to deny the results of an election carried out without fraud. A play, Enrico IV by the great Italian playwright Luigi Pirandello, illuminates this intent to change reality. I read and saw this play on stage in the early 1970s, where it stayed in the recesses of my mind until now.
According to Pirandello “life itself is a performance.” We are now watching a reality show TV star pretending to be a president while ignoring all the responsibilities that come with that position. Trump is a great pretender.
The character of Enrico IV, or Henry IV, in Pirandello’s play is a mad man pretending to be a king from a long time long-ago. Those around him keep the pretense by dressing and acting according to those times. Except there is a twist at the end when Enrico IV declares that he is not mad. Yet he chooses to maintain this role for the rest of his life.
Enrico IV demands those around him to participate in a masquerade, in the process becoming more trapped than him. Pirandello’s play confronts us by asking who is worse — the pretender who gladly wears the mask of another reality or those who abet him and therefore are forced also to wear a mask of that alternative reality. Thus, the sad comparison with the Republican party supporting the falsehood that Donald Trump represents and choosing the absurdity of deceit as a final reality. Who is worse?
Pirandello shows us that those that play along are more complicit and guilty of abetting lies and deceit and therefore they will eternally lose their true selves and be always identified with the impersonator. Enrico IV was written in 1922, a century ago, yet its relevance in condemning the acts of the madman and those who are complicit with him is as relevant today as it was a hundred years ago.
Pirandello understood the complexity of multiple realities and that things are not necessarily as they seem. His works help us better understand the alternative fact world Trump has created. But Pirandello emphasizes that those that choose a role supporting a pretender are more deceitful than him. That, then, is the true tragedy of the moment we are living. It is more than Donald Trump himself; it is those that do not unmask and denounce him for what he is.
Estela Lopez lives in East Hartford.