After an unfortunate fall off of his horse, an Italian nobleman wakes up believing himself to be a king - King Henry IV of Germany, to be precise. For twenty years, Henry’s nephew, Charles Di Nolli, and sister-in-law, Donna Matilda, have kept up an elaborate charade in order to protect his fragile mental state. Now, the family is finally fed up with pretending to live in the 11th century German court, and have brought in a doctor who may be able to cure Henry of his delusion. With each of the family members dressed up as figures from the time of the Holy Roman Empire, the doctor schemes to confront Henry with an incongruity of time and place in order to snap him out of his fantasy - just in time for Henry to reveal that he has been in his right mind the whole time. Henry, driven by unrequited love for Donna Matilda, brings his fantasy to an end with a crime of passion: the murder of Matilda’s lover.
Like many of Pirandello’s plays, Henry IV features a cast of characters who are living a performative life. The “play-within-a-play” of Henry’s imaginary court casts a satirical light on the nature of acting, theatre and performance. However, Henry’s choice to live in a fantasy also poses an existential question: whether it is better to live with the uncertainty of the future, or to feed on the dreams of the past.
Henry IV (Enrico Quarto) guide sections