Pulcinella secrets

Bioethics 25 (9):ii-iii (2011)
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Abstract

Pulcinella is one of the most ancient comic characters of the Commedia dell’Arte.1 He is the stereotypical lazy servant, insolent and chauvinist, sometimes stupid, sometimes clever, always penniless, and absolutely unable to keep any secret. In a typical Commedia dell’Arte plot, the master reveals a secret to Pulcinella, who is under oath never to disclose it. Needless to say, after swearing that he will never divulge it, Pulcinella soon acts in a very different way, telling the secret to everybody he meets. Yet each time Pulcinella discloses the secret, he asks for total confidentiality, pretending that no one else knows it. Sooner or later all characters on the stage know the secret but none of them know that all the others know it. Eventually each one behaves as though she were the sole repository of the secret while the only secret is that there is no secret at all. I often think of the Pulcinella’s secret nowadays, when someone evokes the ‘medical secret’.

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