Short summary - Henry IV - Luigi Pirandello

Italy literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - Henry IV
Luigi Pirandello

The action takes place in a secluded villa in rural Umbria at the beginning of the 20th century. The room reproduces the decoration of the throne room of Henry IV, but to the right and left of the throne are two large modern portraits, one of which depicts a man in the costume of Henry IV, the other a woman in the costume of Matilda of Tuscany. Three young men - Arialdo, Ordulfo and Landolfo - dressed up in costumes of the 11th century, explain to the fourth, who has just been hired, how to behave. The newcomer - Bertoldo - cannot understand in any way which Henry IV is being referred to: French or German. He thought that he should portray an approximate Henry IV of France, and read books on the history of the 16th century. Arialdo, Ordulfo and Landolfo tell Bertoldo about Henry IV of Germany, who waged a fierce struggle with the Pope Gregory VII and, under the threat of excommunication, went to Italy, where in the castle of Canossa, which belonged to Matilda of Tuscany, he humbly asked for forgiveness from the palas. Young men, having read books on history, diligently portray the knights of the 11th century. The most important thing is to answer in tone when Henry IV addresses them. They promise to give Bertoldo books on the history of the 11th century so that he will quickly get used to his new role. Modern portraits that cover niches in the wall where medieval statues should have stood seem anachronistic to Bertoldo, but the rest explain to him that Henry IV perceives them quite differently: for him they are like two mirrors reflecting the images of the Middle Ages come to life. Bertoldo all this seems too abstruse, and he says that he does not want to go crazy.

Enter the old valet Giovanni in evening dress. The young men begin to jokingly drive him away as a person from a different era. Giovanni tells them to stop playing and announces that the owner of the castle, the Marquis di Nolli, has arrived with a doctor and several other people, including the Marquise Matilda Spina, depicted in the portrait in the costume of Matilda of Tuscany, and her daughter Frida, the bride of the Marquis di Nolli. Signora Matilda looks at her portrait, painted twenty years ago. Now it seems to her like a portrait of her daughter Frida. Baron Belcredi, the Marquise's lover, with whom she dives endlessly, objects to her. The mother of the Marquis di Nolli, who died a month ago, believed that her crazy brother, who imagined himself Henry IV, would recover, and bequeathed to her son to take care of his uncle. The young Marquis di Nolli brought a doctor and friends in the hope of curing him.

Twenty years ago, a company of young aristocrats decided to arrange a historical cavalcade for entertainment. The uncle of the Marquis di Nolli dressed up as Henry IV, Matilda Spina, with whom he was in love, Matilda of Tuscany, Belcredi, who came up with the idea of arranging a cavalcade and who was also in love with Matilda Spina, rode behind them. Suddenly the horse of Henry IV reared up, the rider fell And hit the back of his head. No one attached much importance to this, but when he came to his senses, everyone saw that he takes his role seriously and considers himself a real Henry IV. The madman's sister and her son had been pleasing him for many years, turning a blind eye to his madness, but now the doctor decided to present Henry IV at the same time to the Marquise and her daughter Frida, like two drops of water similar to her mother, as she was twenty years ago - he believes that such a comparison will give the patient the opportunity to feel the difference in time and generally cure him. But first, everyone is preparing to appear before Henry IV in medieval costumes. Frida will portray his wife, Bertha of Susi, Matilda, her mother Adelaide, the doctor, Bishop Hugh of Cluny, and Belcredi, the Benedictine monk accompanying him.

Finally, Arialdo announces the arrival of the emperor. Henry IV is about fifty years old, has dyed hair and bright red spots on his cheeks, like dolls. Over the royal dress he wears the robe of a penitent, as in Canossa. He says that since he is wearing the clothes of a penitent, it means that he is now twenty-six years old, his mother Agnes is still alive and it is too early to mourn her. He recalls various episodes of "his" life and is going to ask for forgiveness from Pope Gregory VII. When he leaves, the agitated Marchioness falls almost unconscious into a chair. In the evening of the same day, the doctor, the Marquise Spina and Belcredi discuss the behavior of Henry IV. The doctor explains that madmen have their own psychology: they can see that they are mummers in front of them, and at the same time believe, like children, for whom play and reality are one and the same. But the Marquise is convinced that Henry IV recognized her. And she explains the distrust and dislike that Henry IV felt for Belcredi by the fact that Belcredi is her lover. It seems to the Marquise that Henry IV's speech was full of regrets about his and her youth. She believes that it was misfortune that made him put on a mask that he wants to, but cannot get rid of. Seeing the marquise's deep emotion, Belcredi becomes jealous. Frida tries on a dress in which her mother portrayed Matilda of Tuscany in a magnificent cavalcade.

Belcredi reminds those present that Henry IV must "jump over" not the twenty years that have passed since the accident, but eight hundred years separating the present from the era of Henry IV, and warns that this may end badly. Before they put on a show, the Marchioness and the doctor are going to say goodbye to Henry IV and convince him that they have left. Henry IV is very afraid of the hostility of Matilda of Tuscany, an ally of Pope Gregory VII, so the Marquise asks to be reminded that Matilda of Tuscany, together with the abbot of Cluniy, asked Pope Gregory VII for him. She was not at all as hostile to Henry IV as it seemed, and during the cavalcade, Matilda Spina, who portrayed her, wanted to draw Henry IV's attention to this in order to let him know that although she mocks him, she is actually not indifferent to him. The Doctor dressed as Abbot of Cluny and Mathilde Spina dressed as the Duchess of Adelaide bid farewell to Henry IV. Matilda Spina tells him that Matilda of Tuscany bothered for him before the pope, that she is not an enemy, but a friend of Henry IV. Henry IV is excited. Seizing the moment, Mathilde Spina asks Henry IV: "Do you still love her?" Henry IV is confused, but, quickly mastering himself, reproaches the “Duchess Adelaide” for betraying the interests of her daughter: instead of talking to him about his wife Bertha, she endlessly tells him about another woman. Henry IV speaks of his forthcoming meeting with the Pope, of his wife Bertha of Susie. When the marquise and the doctor leave, Henry IV turns to his four close associates, his face completely changes, and he calls the recent guests jesters. The youths are amazed. Henry IV says that he fools everyone, pretending to be crazy, and everyone becomes jesters in his presence. Henry IV is outraged: Matilda Spina dared to come to him with her lover, and at the same time she still thinks that she showed compassion to the poor patient. It turns out that Henry IV knows the real names of the young men. He invites them to laugh together at those who believe that he is crazy. After all, those who do not consider themselves crazy are in fact no more normal: today one thing seems true to them, tomorrow another, the day after tomorrow a third. Henry IV knows that when he leaves, the electric light is on in the villa, but he pretends not to notice. And now he wants to light his oil lamp, the electric light blinds his eyes. He tells Arialdo, Aandolfo, Ordulfo and Bertoldo that they were in vain, but they were playing a comedy in front of him, they had to create an illusion for themselves, feel like people living in the 11th century, and watch from there how, in eight hundred years, people of the 20th century tormented by unsolvable problems. But the game is over - now that the young men know the truth, Henry IV will no longer be able to continue his life as a great king.

A knock is heard at the back door: it is the old valet Giovanni, who is pretending to be a chronicler monk. The young men begin to laugh, but Henry IV stops them: it is not good to laugh at an old man who does this out of love for his master. Henry IV begins to dictate his biography to Giovanni.

After wishing everyone good night, Heinrich heads through the throne room to his bedchamber. In the throne room, in place of the portraits, exactly reproducing their poses, are Frida in the costume of Matilda of Tuscany and the Marquis di Nolli in the costume of Henry IV. Frida calls out to Henry IV; he shudders in fear. Frida becomes scared and starts screaming like crazy. Everyone in the villa rushes to her aid. No one pays attention to Henry IV. Belcredi tells Frida and the Marquis di Nolli that Henry IV has long recovered and continued to play a role in order to laugh at them all: four young men have already managed to divulge his secret. Henry IV looks at everyone with indignation, he is looking for a way to take revenge. He suddenly has the idea to plunge into pretense again, since he has been so treacherously betrayed. He starts talking to the Marquis di Nolli about his mother Agnes. The doctor believes that Henry IV has again fallen into madness, but Belcredi shouts that he has begun to play a comedy again. Henry IV tells Belcredi that although he has recovered, he has not forgotten anything. When he fell off his horse and hit his head, he really went crazy, and this went on for twelve years. During this time, his place in the heart of his beloved woman was taken by a rival, things have changed, friends have changed. But then one fine day he seemed to wake up, and then he felt that he could not return to his former life, that he would come "hungry like a wolf to a feast, when everything had already been cleared from the table."

Life has moved on. And the one who secretly pricked the horse of Henry IV from behind, forcing it to rear up and throw off the rider, lived quietly all this time. (The Marquise Spina and the Marquis di Nolli are amazed: even they did not know that the fall of Henry IV from a horse was not accidental.) Henry IV says that he decided to remain mad in order to experience a special kind of pleasure: “to experience his madness in an enlightened mind and thereby take revenge on the rude the stone that broke his head." Henry IV is angry that the young men told about his recovery. “I have recovered, gentlemen, because I perfectly know how to portray a madman, and I do it calmly! So much the worse for you if you experience your madness with such excitement, without being aware of it, without seeing it, ”he declares. He says that he did not participate in the life in which Matilda Spina and Belcredi grew old, for him the marquise is forever the same as Frida. The masquerade that Frida was forced to play is by no means a joke for Henry IV, rather it is just an ominous miracle: the portrait came to life, and Frida now belongs to him by right. Henry IV hugs her, laughing like crazy, but when they try to tear Frida out of his arms, he suddenly grabs a sword from Landolfo and wounds Belcredi, who did not believe that he was crazy, in the stomach. Belcredi is carried away, and soon a loud scream of Matilda Spina is heard from behind the scenes. Henry IV is shocked that his own invention has come to life, forcing him to commit a crime. He calls his close associates - four young men, as if wanting to defend himself: "We will stay here together, together ... and forever!"