You watch plays to be entertained. But plays can be sneaky. While you're having a fun time watching the play, the actors are really portraying events that compel you to think about the big serious issues of life. These issues are called themes.

Themes in the play Pinocchio: What is unconditional love? What does it mean to be human? How do we determine what is right and wrong? What role does moderation play in helping us live happy lives? Why is education important to our success in life?

When you're viewing a play, you'll have a lot more fun if you know something about the author and the times in which he or she lived. Carlo Lorenzi was born in Florence, Italy in 1826. But like many writers of his time, he wrote under an alias, or pen-name, Carlo Collodi. He was a soldier in the Italian War for Unification in 1870. He founded two newspapers and wrote several novels. He loved to write stories for children. He had a lively imagination and dreamed up the character of Pinocchio in a series of stories he wrote for his newspaper. The series was called Storia di un Burattino (that's Italian for The Story of a Puppet). The series was so popular that the stories were collected and published as Le Avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio). Collodi didn't achieve success until he published this famous book when he was 57 years old. This just goes to show that we should never give up. He died in 1890 at the age of 64.

There are two types of puppets. Marionettes are manipulated by strings. Burattinos are worked by hand. Pinocchio was originally depicted as a burattino.
Our play takes place in Florence, Italy. Florence was the center of the Renaissance. The Renaissance was a 'rebirth' or revival of classical art and learning in the 14th through 16th centuries. It was a period of great intellectual development in the history of humankind. The Renaissance is what catapulted Western Civilization out of the ages of ignorance.

Before, and for a long time after the Renaissance, all the countries in Europe were headed by kings. The king had all the power. He wasn't elected by the people. He was king because his father was king or he had a fearsome army that snuffed out any opposition to him. Whatever he said was the law. And since he owned the army, if you said something bad about him, you might be killed. With this unlimited power, the kings usually became conceited, only caring about themselves. They thought God had given them special 'blue blood' and they proclaimed that God had appointed them to rule over everybody. Notice how arrogant Pinocchio acts at the beginning of the play when he is pretending to be a king.

The Renaissance moved humans out of the 'Middle Ages,' where hardly anyone knew anything, and into an age of enlightenment. Enlightenment means that there was more study in the arts, sciences, and literature. It didn't happen overnight, but in the few hundred years after the Renaissance, a lot more people started reading and learning and thinking for themselves. This became dangerous for the kings who didn't care about their subjects, because reading spreads new ideas that might not be helpful for keeping a big bully in power. In the 1700's, one such idea that took hold was government by the people.

Many thinking people realized that it was pretty silly for them to believe that God had given all the political power to just one guy. Especially if the king was mean and greedy.

As a result, about a hundred years before Collodi was born, the countries of Europe started to undergo big political changes. In France, the people rioted because they were hungry and the king didn't seem to care. The French got rid of the royalty by cutting their heads off on the guillotine. The statue you see in the beginning of our video is of Louis the Sixteenth. He was the king of France who died on the guillotine during the French Revolution.

Other countries throughout Europe were changing their forms of government in the 100 years prior to Collodi's birth. People all over Europe were demanding more rights because they were reading the works of great writers who had new ideas like one that helped topple the French king: all men are created equal.

In Italy, Collodi fought in the Italian War for Unification in 1870. Collodi's side won, and as a result, Italy became one country. Before the war it had been many small states that had been mostly ruled by the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church. But the war reduced the Pope's territory to one square mile in Rome, and made Italy into one country that was ruled by a king. But it was a politically weakened king who was given only limited power.

So you can see that in the late 1800's, when Collodi wrote his story, Europe was still in a period of social upheaval. The vast majority of people were still poor. And most still could not read or write. Houses were small and a tiny wood or coal fire was all that was available for warmth and cooking. Two changes of clothes would usually be the most anybody had. Bread was the staple food. Meat was scarce and expensive and only eaten on special holidays.

The new European governments now relied on representation by their citizens. If the new governments were going to succeed, the citizens needed to be educated. So Italy started sponsoring public school. Prior to this, only privileged children could go to school. When Pinocchio was written the idea of everyone being able to go to school was still rather new. Parents liked the idea though because they knew that only education could give their children a better life. So now you understand the reasons why the importance of education is a major theme in Pinocchio. Because Collodi had risked his life in a war to bring more power to the citizens of his country, he knew how very important it was for the survival of Italy and the success of the new government to have citizens who were educated. Educated citizens would no longer blindly follow orders from kings.

Collodi knew the BIG SECRET TO SUCCESS IN LIFE: knowledge = power = happiness. He wanted Italian citizens to keep their new power through education. And, he wanted kids to see the rewards of an educated life. The playwright, Moses
Symbolism is when a writer, or an artist, uses something to represent something else. It is much more interesting to read about and see the performing donkey, than it is to hear a lecture on how you need to develop self-control. This is the function of great theatre. To entertain you while it encourages you to think.
Goldberg, cleverly weaves these ideas of Collodi's into his play. When Pinocchio is enticed by his friends to forget about school, spend his poor father's money on the theatre, and go to Toytown, he is throwing away his opportunity to attain knowledge and his chance for happiness. At first Pinocchio and the children think that life in Toytown is paradise: ice cream for breakfast, cake for lunch, no school and play all day long. But soon they literally become sick from all the indulgence. And to top it all off, they start to turn into miserable donkeys. Pinocchio is taken away to perform on the stage, but he is a failure as a performing donkey. He is then hauled to the sea to be drowned so his hide may be sold.

We must learn to strike a balance between work and play, between the need to get what we want and the need to be concerned about others.

As the story unfolds we see that growing up, or becoming real in Pinocchio's case, means that we must learn to control our selfish desires. If we can't control our desires, then we lose the free will that makes us human, the free will that differentiates us from animals. This is what the donkey symbolizes.

We also see that without an education, and without his father to love and help him, Pinocchio has no value to anyone which brings us to the theme of unconditional love. Gepetto loves Pinocchio unconditionally. He doesn't expect anything in return from his son. Gepetto sells his only coat to send his son to school. Throughout the play, Gepetto sacrifices his comfort and safety for Pinocchio. And even when Pinocchio misbehaves or disappoints, Gepetto still loves him.

Contrast Gepetto's behavior toward Pinocchio with that of the other people who claim to be Pinocchio's friends. The kids only want to hang around him because he has money to take them to the theatre. The Fox and Cat claim to be his friends only to steal his money. They almost beat Pinocchio to death trying to find the money. At one tense point in the play, the theatre people decide they want to burn him in order to cook their dinner. And the Coachman decides to drown Pinocchio when he can no longer make money as a performing donkey.

Throughout the play we see Pinocchio misled by people who entice him with 'the easy life.' The so-called 'easy life,' of always giving into your desires and to peer pressure, is actually shown to be quite difficult and dangerous. What Pinocchio initially thinks is hard work, going to school and having a job, turns out to be the true dolce vita, or sweet life. We see how happy Pinocchio is at the end of the play when he realizes that what really brings him contentment, what really makes him human is learning, working, and unconditional love.

Keep your eye on Cricket who symbolizes Pinocchio's conscience. Your conscience is the voice in your head that tells you what is right or wrong. It's Cricket's job to tell the truth and he warns Pinocchio that he will have to work hard if he is going to become 'real.' Pinocchio doesn't want to hear the truth because admitting the truth, doing what is right, often seems at first to be the more difficult path to take.

Every time Pinocchio ignores his conscience, he gets into trouble. When he listens to the school kids instead of doing what he knows is correct, he bows to peer pressure and narrowly escapes death several times.

What the play helps the viewer to understand is that we need to trust ourselves, not others, because deep down inside we all know what is right. We all have a little Cricket in our head from whom we can get good advice.

So we see that Pinocchio is not just a trivial amusing story. It is a multi-layered work that combines entertainment with philosophy and politics. When Carlo Collodi wrote this wonderful, imaginative story he became part of a long tradition of innovative thinkers from Florence, Italy who still influence minds all over the world.

Probing the themes of the play

1. The search for identity: Pinocchio starts out as idle, selfish, disobedient, uncaring, and gullible. As the play progresses, we see him change. He begins to think of his father and what he can do for him. He realizes the great value of an education and chooses to go to school rather than return to Toytown. He assumes the responsibility of work. Only after all of this does he become a 'real' human being. What qualities do you think define a human being?

2. The need for security and love: Gepetto displays unconditional love for Pinocchio. Without this we wonder if Pinocchio could have survived. Why is love necessary for Pinocchio to become a real person?

3. Giving in to peer pressure: We all hate to be different. Sometimes we are so afraid to appear different that we follow the leader even though the leader is wrong. What is peer pressure and what makes us give in to it? How can we counteract peer pressure?

4. Learning from our mistakes: A great man and scholar, Dr. Johnson once said, "he who never makes a mistake never makes anything." Do you agree? Have you ever made a mistake that later turned out to be good?

5. Conscience: The German philosopher Kant, said that we are all born with a sense of what is right and what is wrong, but that some of us choose to ignore it. Do you agree that we were born with a sense of what is right and wrong?

6. The need for balance: The ancient Greeks used the word 'Sophrosine' to describe balance. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, considered it essential. He calls it the median between vice and virtue. Pinocchio wants to have only fun without the responsibility, but he eventually realizes that this is impossible. If you never studied and you only ate candy, what do you think would happen?

Incredibly cool things to do

Interview your family and friends using the questions above. Then compare your answers with theirs. Or you can discuss your views with Elizabeth and Preston at

Make some paper masks create your own, or copy the ones in the play. Then create your own performance.

Do you know of any other character who spent time in the belly of a fish? There are several. Find them and read them. Or, write a song about being stuck in the belly of a fish like, "stuck in the belly of a fish, I only had one wish&"

We mentioned Dante's Divine Comedy. In which song in the play was it mentioned?

Find a globe or an atlas, and locate Italy. It is the country in Europe that looks like a high-heeled boot.

Learn some Italian words and impress everyone.

Signore e signori - (see-nyor-eh eh see-nyor-ee) Ladies & Gentlemen
carabinieri - (car-ah-bee-nee-airy) - police
ciao - (chow) - Hello or Goodbye (This is very cool to say.)
Mama - (mah-mah) - mother
Burattino - (boo-rah-tee-no) - hand puppet
amore - (ah-more-eh) - love
andiamo - (an-dee-ah-moe) - Let's go!
Bambini - (bam-bee-nee) - children
la dolce vita - (la dole-cheh vee-tah) - the sweet life, the good life
si - (see) - yes