La coscienza di Zeno

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La coscienza di Zeno ("The conscience of Zeno")[1] is a 1923 novel by Italo Svevo (1861-1928)[2]

The novel has been the source for a number of South African art and theatre works.

Original source

La coscienza di Zeno ("The conscience of Zeno")[3], is a novel by Italo Svevo (1861-1928)[4], published in 1923, about the memoirs kept of the fictional character "Zeno Cosini", kept as a therapeutic action at the behest of his psychoanalyst. In it he writes about his father, his business, his wife, and his tobacco habit.

The original English translation of the novel was published under the title Confessions of Zeno, but is also known as Zeno's Confessions.

Aspects of the novel have been adapted and dramatised in various forms by William Kentridge, the Handspring Puppet Company and colleagues - initally as a a series of prints named Zeno at 4am, then as a shadow oratorio (2001), then as a full-scale stage production called Confessions of Zeno (2002).

The Art work: Zeno at 4am

Zeno at 4am is the title of an artwork by William Kentridge (1955-) and an accompanying shadow puppet play, referred to as a shadow oratorio, also by Kentridge.

Also found as Zeno at 4 a.m..

The artwork

Zeno at 4 a.m. consists of of a suite of 9 prints of various objects, printed by Maurice Payne and published by David Krut Fine Art, Inc. in 2001.


The stage versions

The oratario: Zeno at 4 a.m.

A multimedia shadow oratorio/opera, devised and directed by William Kentridge, with a libretto by Jane Taylor (based on "The Death of My Father" from Svevo's novel), music by Kevin Volans and art works by William Kentridge, the piece featured live music by the Duke Quartet and the Handspring Puppet Company (manipulating puppets that act as a silent, mimetic chorus to the actions of Zeno, simultaneously filmed and projected onto a large panelled screen just behind the tormented father and son).

The piece was precursor to the full-scale work Confessions of Zeno in 2002.

2001: Directed by William Kentridge with Dawid Minnaar, Otto Maidi, Pumeza Matshikiza (tall), Lwazi Ncube (short). Taken on an international tour, it was performed in Brussels, Paris, Angoulême, Toulouse, Amiens, Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York.

2001-2002: Presented at the theatre in the MCA Chicago, as part of the William Kentridge survey exhibition until January 20, 2002.


Ruphin Coudyzer. 2023. Annotated list of his photographs of Market Theatre productions. (Provided by Coudyzer)

Go to ESAT Bibliography

The play: Confessions of Zeno

Following on Zeno at 4 a.m., the mnaterial was expanded to create Confessions of Zeno in 2002. This was a collaborative project between artist/director William Kentridge, the Handspring Puppet Company, composer Kevin Volans(1949-)[5] and writer Jane Taylor. It combines puppets and humans to explore the worlds of work and of erotic pleasure that sustain the life of the modern European bourgeoisie in the years before the outbreak of World War I. The central character (Zeno) recalls the great moments of indecision and irresolution that have marked his life, and that have set in place his unresolved relationships with his father, and his wife and his mistress.

Performance history in South Africa

2002: First produced by the Handspring Puppet Company in Grahamstown at the Guy Butler Theatre at the National Arts Festival (3–4 Jul 2002) and at the Market Theatre.

2003: Presented at the Spier Amphitheatre, Stellenbosch. Directed by William Kentridge, with Dawid Minnaar (6–8 February).


Ruphin Coudyzer. 2023. Annotated list of his photographs of Market Theatre productions. (Provided by Coudyzer)

Jane Taylor 2003. "Taking Stock: The making of a bourgeois life—The Confessions of Zeno", South African Theatre Journal 17(1) January 2003:233-244

Go to ESAT Bibliography

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