Online reading: “Henry IV” by Luigi Pirandello

Tagora members and friends are invited to take part in – or just listen to – an online reading of Henry IV by Luigi Pirandello on Sunday 21 February at 11.00.

About the play

After a fall from his horse during a Carnival pageant, an unnamed Italian aristocrat believes he is the obscure medieval German emperor Henry IV and is placed by the family in a villa with four valets, pretending to be his “private counsellors” – Landolph, Ordulph, Harold and the newly recruited Berthold. After twenty years of living this royal illusion, his nephew – Marquis di Nolli – together with Henry’s old flame – the Marchioness Matilda, her current lover the Baron Belcredi, and Matilda’s daughter – Frida (who is also di Nolli’s fiancée) – come to visit him with a noted psychiatrist – Dr Genoni – to shock the madman back to sanity.

Their efforts reveal that for the past eight years the nobleman has in fact been sane… but what is sanity and what is madness? What is reality and what is fiction? What is the mask and what is the true self? What’s the difference between living our life and impersonating it? Can’t there be “variable truths” and can’t theatre be more real than life?

Pirandello’s favourite themes are presented in this play, which was ranked by The Independent as one of the 40 greatest plays ever written.

How to take part

Tagora members and friends are welcome to join us online, to read or just to listen. For a personal invitation, please e-mail

Future readings

We have initially programmed further readings on the following dates, all at 11.00:

  • Sunday 21 March
  • Sunday 18 April

Plays will be announced in due course. And if you have a proposal for a play, let us know at

Hope to see you soon!

The characters

For the purpose of the play reading, the characters will be the ones marked above in bold (2W+7M). Here are some extra notes about the main ones, as presented in the play itself:

  • Henry IV is about 50 and very pale. The hair on the back of his head is already grey; over the temples and forehead it appears blond, owing to its having been tinted in an evident and puerile fashion. On his cheek bones he has two small, doll-like dabs of colour, that stand out prominently against the rest of his tragic pallor. He is wearing a penitent’s sack over his regal habit, as at Canossa. His eyes have a fixed look which is dreadful to see, and this expression is in strained contrast with the sackcloth.
  • Donna Matilda Spina is about 45, still handsome, although there are too patent signs of her attempts to remedy the ravages of time with make-up. Her head is thus rather like a Walkyrie. This facial make-up contrasts with her beautiful sad mouth. A widow for many years, she now has as her friend the Baron Tito Belcredi, whom neither she nor anyone else takes seriously – at least so it would appear.
  • What Baron Tito Belcredi really is for Matilda at bottom, he alone knows; and he is, therefore, entitled to laugh, if his friend feels the need of pretending not to know. He can always laugh at the jests which the beautiful Marchioness makes with the others at his expense. He is slim, prematurely gray, and younger than she is. His head is bird-like in shape. He would be a very vivacious person, if his ductile agility (which among other things makes him a redoubtable swordsman) were not enclosed in a sheath of laziness, which is revealed in his strange, nasal drawn-out voice.
  • Frida, the daughter of the Marchioness is 19. She is frustrated; because her imperious and too beautiful mother puts her in the shade, and provokes facile gossip against her daughter as well as against herself. Fortunately for her, she is engaged to the Marquis Charles Di Nolli
  • Charles Di Nolli is a stiff young man, very indulgent towards others, but sure of himself for what he amounts to in the world. He is worried about all the responsibilities which he believes weigh on him. He is dressed in deep mourning for the recent death of his mother.
  • Dr Dionisyus Genoni has a bold rubicund Satyr-like face, prominent eyes, a pointed beard (which is silvery and shiny) and elegant manners. He is nearly bald.