Luigi Pirandello's father was a prosperous sulphur dealer. He expected that his son would eventually take over the family business, but Pirandello's intellectual gifts were evident early and he was provided with a quality education. It was a fortunate thing, too, for the sulphur mines collapsed in 1904 destroying the family business.
In 1891, Luigi Pirandello enrolled at the University of Bonn where he would eventually earn his doctorate in philosophy. Pirandello had previously attended the University of Rome, but transferred after a dispute with the principal of that university.
On July 14, 1930, Luigi Pirandello's play The Man With the Flower in His Mouth became the first drama ever broadcast over the then-experimental medium of television. Produced as part of the BBC's test transmissions from the Baird studios in London, the play was chosen partly because of its length (less than half an hour) and partly because it only contained three characters. The actors were Earle Grey as "The Man," Gladys Young as "His Wife," and Lionel Millard as "The Customer." The production was extremely low budget. For instance, when a change of scene was necessary, a screen was merely held in front of the camera while the actors changed seats.
In 1894, at the age of 27, Pirandello agreed to a marriage that had been arranged by his parents to Antonietta Portulano, the daughter of one of his father's business partners who Luigi had never met. For the first few years, the young couple seemed reasonably happy, but after the birth of their third child and the loss of the family fortune in a flood, Antonietta suffered a complete mental breakdown. In spite of her extremely violent and delusional behavior, Pirandello chose to care for her at home for fifteen years before finally sending her to a private sanitarium in 1919. His wife's illness had a profound effect on the struggling writer and inspired explorations of madness, illusion, and isolation in his plays.
The most popular of Pirandello's comedies, Six Characters in Search of an Author tells the tale of six characters whose author has failed to complete their story. Driven to play out the life that is rightfully theirs, these characters interrupt the rehearsal of another Pirandello play and request that they be allowed to live out their lives here, on this stage. Thinking it an interesting theatrical experiment, the manager consents. He soon regrets his decision, however, as the characters refuse to stay within the arbitrary boundaries that he has set for them. Their rebellion against their creator leads them to attack the foundation of the play, ignoring all stage directions and the pleas of the manager until, in the end, tragedy strikes. The boy, the family's youngest son, watches with a look of madness as his four-year-old sister drowns in a fountain. He then slips off behind a tree and shoots himself. Written in only a few weeks during 1921, Six Characters in Search of an Author had a successful but scandalous opening in Rome, followed by a successful and less scandalous opening in Milan. Soon, it was being directed by Komisarjevsky in London, Brock Pemberton in New York, and Max Reinhardt in Germany, and Pirandello found himself showered with the praise and recognition that had been denied his earlier efforts.
In Henry IV, Pirandello tells the story of a madman who believes himself to be the medieval German Emperor Henry IV. This belief is coddled by a wealthy relative who surrounds the man with a retinue of servants and courtiers properly attired to support his delusion. After twelve years, the madman recovers his senses but continues to feign insanity because he prefers this world of illusions to the real world in which the woman he loved left him as a result of his deranged behavior. When this woman comes to visit with her new lover, "Henry IV" is driven to a fit of rage and murders his rival. Afterwards, he realizes that, if he wishes to escape the legal consequences of his actions, he must now continue the pretense of madness for the rest of his life.
At the time of his death in 1936, Luigi Pirandello had left instructions for his funeral requesting that "When I am dead, do not clothe me. Wrap me naked in a sheet. No flowers on the bed and no lighted candle. A pauper's cart. Naked. And let no one accompany me, neither relatives nor friends. The cart, the horse, the coachmen, e basta. Burn me." But the church did not condone cremation, nor did the Fascist party intend to provide one of its most famous members with such an unorthodox funeral. Thus, quite the opposite of what he had requested, Pirandello was given a lavish state funeral.