David Friggieri | Sunday, 06 September 2009
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The missing characters in Malta’s favourite morality play

The time has come for all genuine lovers of theatre to take stock of the characters who animate this modern-day Maltese adaptation of the original 1970s Italian play Tra Chiesa e Stato. We shall demonstrate how two important characters in this fairly mediocre saga have been omitted in the Maltese adaptation. Or, more intriguingly (and this is the most compelling literary theory doing the rounds at the moment), in typically Pirandellian fashion, the characters are said to have written themselves out of the script.

“Id-Divorzju – ajma kif xbajna!” (1)

Dramatis Personae

God Himself: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
Thus begins this tale of much talk, wringing of hands and delaying tactics. In the original Italian version, God – a character who never actually appears on stage – occupies a central role in the development of the morality play. He is quoted and invoked
by most of the characters who animate the tale, thus making His presence ‘more real than real’. This dramatic technique has remained entirely unchanged since the original Italian version was written (1970) and was maintained in its Spanish (1981) and Irish versions (1995). More moody presence than deus-ex-machina, God is crucial to the atmospheric ‘feel’ of the play.

Lorenzo Il Magnifico, dauphin of Eduardo Primo: Prince of Melita - In times of great social change but resolutely loyal to the values of his predecessor, Lorenzo Il Magnifico is a trustworthy leader, described in certain history books as possessing a ‘safe pair of hands’. Lorenzo’s main attributes are his ‘conscience’ and ‘unwavering faith in the values of the Papal States’. In Act II, Scene 1 he utters the memorable lines “Jalla qatt ma nghaddu minnha din il-haga tad-divorzju!” which underpins much of the political significance of the morality tale. The play hinges on the following ethical dilemmas:
Should a man’s religious beliefs shape a nation’s choices? In Shakespearean terms, will Lorenzo ‘murder his own sleep’ by reluctantly agreeing to introduce the divorce beast into his realm?
Will his conscience ever allow him to do the unthinkable? Probably not... hence his use of the strategy commonly known as ‘delaying tactics’... which provides most of the play’s dubious suspense.

Giuseppe Poil de Carotte – A young, upwardly-mobile pretender to the throne who heralds his arrival on the scene by waving the divorce standard in order to distinguish his ‘moderate, progressive’ self from ‘old, musty’ Lorenzo. However, more intent on leaving all his options open and quelling any uprising from the ‘conservative’ faction of his own assembled followers, he falls short of his full potential and, consequently, shies away from taking the dragon by the horns. Scholars of the time describe Giuseppe as a ‘born pragmatist’, a trait common in young noblemen of his time.

The Messengers of God – the Maltese version of the play has been criticised for centralising the action around these characters, thereby skewing the narrative of the original Italian version and, in the words of one literary critic ‘clogging up the scenery’. The Spanish and Irish versions, on the other hand, remained faithful to the original in this respect, limiting The Messengers’ lines to a few key speeches while allowing ‘los politicos’ more room to develop their ideas. In the Maltese version, on the other hand, The Messengers of God occupy over one hundred pages of script while ‘il-politikanti’ are
pathetically left with a few scraps here and there.

The Renegade Priests – Another Maltese peculiarity has been to centre one of the most tempestuous scenes of the entire play around the following three characters: Vecchio Padre Carlo, Pierre le Sage and Marco Rebelde, three men of the cloth who challenge (drum roll!) the ancient wisdom handed down to The Messengers of God. “This faithfully reflects local reality,” according to a respected scholar, “independent intellectuals were largely silent, tame or just minding their own business during that period. At any rate, their impact on society was minimal. You were much more likely to witness spats among priests than spats between intellectuals and the Church! Amazing but true!”
Critics also point out that, oddly, the Italian, Spanish, French and Irish versions of the play placed huge emphasis on the ‘Civil Society’ character which gave the director the opportunity to fill the stage with thousands of actors waving flags and brandishing banners in favour of the cause. “Outside the political parties and the Church, the mobilization of common people was virtually non-existent.” Another historian explains, “The Maltese, known for their pragmatism, just got on with their lives and let the kings and priests do the talking!”

The Silent Liberals within Lorenzo’s Court – so silent, in fact, that they utter but three meagre lines during the entire duration of the play (during the ‘cocktail party’ scene in Act III). Critics have compared this minor, albeit significant, role to that played by The Quiet Labour Europhiles in the comedy ‘Svizzera fil-Mediterran’.

The Scribblers – a handful of minstrels, closely associated with Lorenzo’s court and viciously opposed to the ascendancy of Giuseppe Poil de Carotte. Detractors of the island’s tight Union with the Holy Roman Pontiff, the scribblers are nonetheless careful to avoid ascribing any direct responsibility for this state of affairs to Lorenzo himself.

The Reluctant Anthropologist and the Think Tank – Two unusual characters in the Maltese version of the play, whose rather bookish argumentation is somewhat trumped by the clarity of the lines delivered by a character known as A.C Grayling...

A. C. Grayling, a British philosopher – A character who comes out of nowhere to deliver one single striking soliloquy amid all the chatter and bluster: “People grow and change. Through experience they acquire new needs, interests and perceptions. They outlive marriages, especially those contracted when relatively young. To condemn people to remain in a relationship which seemed good at one time but which by a later time has become a painful straightjacket, a mutually toxic and life-denying source of chronic unhappiness, seems as cruel as it is stupid. For individual well-being and flourishing, it is essential that people should be able to forge new intimacies when old ones have died. This is true even when there are children in the case, since a persistently unhappy home environment can damage children, while happier second relationships can show them that marriage with the right person in the right way can constitute one of life’s central amenities.” (2)

(1) A title plagiarised lock, stock and barrel from newspaper Illum
(2) A.C. Grayling, The Form of Things – Essays of Life, Ideas and Liberty in the 21st Century, Phoenix


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