Carmelo Galea’s style of writing

Being stationed at the Juventutis Domus theatre in Sliema proved to be an opportunity for Carmelo Galea to develop his work in theatre. Whilst teaching catechism at the oratory (right next to the theatre complex), Galea thought of different ways of explaining the Christian doctrine to his young audience, often using examples from everyday life. This practice was slowly being developed through theatre where similarly to John Bosco’s use of theatre to explain the Decimal system, Carmelo Galea was using the theatre to pass on important educational messages. The problem lay in finding good texts in the vernacular language relevant to the subject and audience. It is important to mention that since at the time, women were not allowed to act in Church controlled theatres and that the Juventutis Domus was part of a church institution, not all plays could be deemed fit to play, and so changes had to be made to the script if necessary.

Carmelo Galea was translating Romantic plays from Italian at the time since he was exposed to the Italian theatre scene long before coming to Malta. The few texts available were the ones found on the ‘Mogħdija taż-Żmien’ books which were published by Alfons Maria Galea, Vaudevilles and French comedies translated from Italian by M.A. Borg and a number of dramas which were not relevant to the context at the time. Even though Giovanni Verga’s Verismo was popular at the time, Carmelo Galea chose to adhere to the Romantic style of writing which was greatly influenced by the Church.

It-Triq tal-Haqq

The need of having a new repertoire in Maltese whilst keeping to the Salesian educational ethos was central for Carmelo Galea to develop new ideas whilst adapting other foreign texts to the Domus. The way forward in capturing the audience was to create situations with which it can relate to whilst  giving educational instruction. He started off writing a comedy, ‘L-Eku tad-Daqqa ta’ Ħarta’, which focuses on giving a pleasurable instruction to the audience. At first, the play did not succeed in reaching out to the audience due to the playwright’s lack of attention towards giving depth to the characters in play. Carmelo Galea sought to write his second take on the play, which he states was a success and had to be represented on various dates due to its popularity. He declared in writing that these theatre productions have been written by himself and that due to copyright issues, anyone wanting to use these scripts can do so by his permission or that of the Rector in charge of the Salesian Oratory in Sliema. Interestingly Karm Galea did not want to assume total responsibility for his works but rather shifted the responsibility onto the rest of the Salesian congregation. In doing so, Galea constantly made clear that his intention of gaining any revenue was to be channelled towards providing financial aid to new vocations. Unfortunately, many of Carmelo Galea’s original texts are nowhere to be found at the Salesian Archives, the only remaining texts written by Galea which are found at the Archives are the few published plays which he wrote at a later stage in his career. 

Galea managed to write over 105 texts related to theatre, which could be categorised in three main groups:

Translations (40 translations from Italian) which include; 

Magħmudija tad-Demm – Enrico Basari
La Gerla di Papa’ Martin – Cormon & Grange
Il-Princep ta’ Fleury – G. Forzano
Le Furberie di Scapino – Jean Moliere
Fabiola – Cardinal Wiseman

Adaptations (18 plays adapted from other foreign plays) which include;

Erodi – Scenes taken from the play ‘Martri tal-Golgotha’ by Enrico Perez Escrich
Fi Ħdan il-Mulej – Scenes taken from the play ‘Oracolo’ by Saint Faix

Originals (47 plays of which a number have been published for use in other theatres) which include;

L-Akbar Traġedja (Drama)
L-Appostlu San Pawl (Drama)
Qlub Inkurunati bil-Ward (Drama)
Good Bye (Comedy)
Kont bil-Għatx u Sqejtni (Drama)
Ħolma ta’ Missjunarju (Drama)
It-Triq tal-Ħaqq (Comedy)
Christus Vincit (Drama)

The play texts listed above are only a few of the many works which Carmelo Galea wrote throughout the 51 years active at the Juventutis Domus. It is said that Galea had many friends who often helped him develop his literary work namely the national poet Karm Psaila and Gozitan poet Gorg Pisani who both used to communicate at times by means of poetry. Galea started to make a name for himself throughout the island, at times being featured on newspapers and books:

‘Galea tas-Soċjeta John Bosco twieled fl-1890, studja l-mużika għand il-kompożitur Albert Vella. Bla ma nesaġeraw ngħidu ma jingħaddux id-drammi, il-kummiedji soċjali, buzzetti u farsi li tana għall-Palk Mali. Fl-1950 kiteb il-librett, versi u proża tal-melodrama ‘Dell is-Sultan‘ immużikata minn Dr. Em. Caruana. Għandu tiegħu wkoll l-operetta ‘Il-Birthday ta‘ Madame Gringo’, versi, proża u mużika, kollox oriġinali. Kiteb ħafna libretti bil-Malti għal Rivisti Mużikali u kanzunetti.’ 

Robert Mifsud Bonnici, Ġrajja tal-Mużika f’Malta u Għawdex, Monograph, Malta: Giov. Muscat, 1954.

‘Though his primary aim was not literary excellence, his works have contributed to Maltese literature and have been a great inspiration to many, but before all they were certainly of great educational value.’ 

Fr Anthony Sutherland sdb

Galea’s intention was to instruct whilst keeping in mind that entertainment is important to get the message across in unconventional ways. Though the stage can ‘instruct’ according to German Bertolt Brecht, it need not therefore be dull and preachy.

‘There is thrilling learning, joyous and militant learning. If learning could not be delightful, then the theatre, by its very nature, would not be in a position to instruct … if it is good theatre, it will entertain.’ 

Trevor A. Hart, Steven R. Guthrie, Introduction

Carmelo Galea can be defined as being a Romantic script writer. Galea’s love of Maltese culture and history pervades his theatrical work and poetry, and gives it a new dynamic. Galea wanted to create a space where young people could form their morals through theatre involvement with others, whilst having the text as a means of instruction to the audience. He distanced himself from fame, at times clearly stating it in his work. Even though he did not have a very good school education, he still persisted in learning and did so with the Salesians in Turin and Sicily. After having met with Edward Cavarra, who is said to have helped Carmelo Galea improve his literary work, Galea spent more time studying on how to be historically correct before writing a text in order not only convey positive messages but also teach and instruct young people on history. His main works in which a great deal of time was spent on research were the passion plays and the historical plays depicting the lives of saints, namely that of Saint Paul. The script was written in seven episodes to preserve every little detail in the story. Galea had to keep in mind the context in which the Juventutis Domus functioned. It had to appeal to the younger generation whilst keeping a link with the older generation. The texts had to be appropriate to be shown in this religious context and had to be performed by an all male company. This proved to be problematic since it limited the type of plays which were allowed to be performed in the theatre.


Reminiscent to John Bosco’s writing, Carmelo Galea used to write social dramas, comedies and farces in order to entertain his young audience. By keeping the setting of some of his plays in a contemporary context, Galea inserted elements in his plays to which the audience could relate and learn from. This however did not impede him from writing other works set in mystical and epic contexts. The comedies he wrote are generally based in contexts relevant to the public with a few set abroad. Galea wanted to create a theatre for social change that questions morality and deals with the issues of individuals and their relation to society.

‘Triq tal-Ħaqq’, one of Galea’s early works recall similarities to Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’, in the instances where the guardian angel appears and creates moments of revelation to the main character in the hopes of changing his life for the better. Galea manages to create a narrative, based on this plot and inserts elements which are relative to the teachings of the Church. I presume Galea could refer to this play with the children of the Oratory by outlining the various moments throughout the play in which discussion could be created. The Times of Malta reported that;

‘the script of the play is a credible effort at originality in the field of playwriting. Mr. C. Galea S.D.B. author of the play has made a valuable contribution to the Maltese stage by producing this social drama which depicts the problem of real life with an imaginative angle in an age of muddled thinking and materialism.’

The Times of Malta, February 1953

In ‘Triq tal-Ħaqq’ Galea indirectly refers to the relationships between the father and son figures throughout the play. He went on to write other comedies that focus on this notion, one of which would be ‘Good Bye’. This play, which Galea considers as being his best comedy, focuses on the father/son relationship in a more direct manner. The comedy ‘Good Bye’ does not enter into the realm of tragedy like ‘Triq tal-Ħaqq’. The characters Sonny Boy and Mrs. Sherlock, who are two comical characters in ‘Good Bye’, keep the comical mood throughout the play which do not dampen the feel of the play. This play does not reach the level of desperation like ‘Triq tal-Ħaqq’ does in Filippu’s attempted suicide scene but rather skims on the threshold of sadness within the father/son relationship. 

Maurice, a Maltese painter, goes abroad in the hope of selling his works. He meets a young woman and marries her. Her rich father does not approve of their union and disowns her. The two flee to Canada and live in poverty. After having a son, the mother dies and leaves Maurice alone with the baby, both living in misery. Time passes and the child grows older. 

The father needs to go out of the house to get some errands, and so leaves the house leaving his young child alone sleeping on his bed. Maurice exits the stage, unaware that a robber had been hiding under the window, waiting for him to leave. Once in the robber notices that there is nothing valuable in the room, at which point he sits down on the bed and sleeps. Johnny, the boy, wakes up and startled by the other man on the bed, starts screaming. The robber wakes up and manages to strike a deal with the young boy not to say a word of what had happened. Trying to play along, the boy accepts and the robber leaves the room. Once out, Maurice enters the room and talks to his young child. A photo of an old man is spotted by the boy amongst the mess the robber had left behind, and asks his father who the person in the photo was. Explaining the situation, the father confesses to the child and tells him the truth about the relationship he has with his father in law, the child’s grandfather. They both exit the room, leaving behind the mess the robber had left.

Iz-Zija ta’ Karlu (1951)

Mrs. Sherlock, the Governor, and Sonny Boy, an African American servant, enter the room and upon noticing the mess, go round in search of any valuable information. The Governor is in search of the Count’s (Maurice’s father in law) nephew, whilst Sonny Boy is there to help her in finding him not only because he is her servant but because he was Johnny’s mother’s friend. Maurice enters the room and after speaking to the others, decides to leave for New York, where his father in law expects his nephew to be present. Sherlock gives the news to Maurice and tells him that Johnny will inherit his father in law’s wealth. The Act ends with both Maurice and Johnny letting go of the place which they, for many years, called home.

The second act introduces us the the Count’s house in New York. Johnny is seen talking the Sonny Boy, telling him that he misses his father next to him. The scene ends with Johnny giving the servant a letter addressed to the son’s father. The Count enters and urges Johnny to prepare himself for a big party in honour of his return. Johnny insists with the Count that he would find happiness only if his father was around, obviously triggering past issues. This sets loose a process in which the Count gradually changes his attitude towards the situation and starts dealing with his past. Mrs. Sherlock is the first person with whom he starts recounting his experience and how hurt he was after taking the decision of banishing his daughter from the will. The characters are seen on stage during a dinner. At a point, the Count is given a photograph together with the letter Johnny wrote for his father, at which point the Count runs off stage in contemplation.  After all the movements on stage settle, a robber is seen on stage who takes Johnny in the hopes of taking him hostage, but Lonzi, the man who tried to rob Maurice’s house in Canada, steps in and frees Johnny from the other assailant’s hand. 

The last act sees the change in character in the Count, Johnny’s grandfather. The Count promises Johnny that whatever happens, his father Maurice will be by his side. He expresses his dismay at what had happened in the past and that these events had taught him a valuable lesson. Maurice enters the room and hugs his child whilst promising him that no matter what happens, he will always remain by his side. Sherlock enters the room and informs Maurice that the Count wanted to meet him in private. Once Maurice is off stage, a police constable is seen in the room holding Lonzi. He says that even though the Count had came to an agreement of reconciliation, Lonzi had to continue serving a previous prison sentence. Johnny is seen walking on stage, and is seen talking to Lonzi. Sonny Boy is on stage with a photograph of his family, shows it to the Count, who immediately offers Sonny Boy the chance of being reunited with his family in Africa. The play ends with the grandfather, father and son trio leaving for Malta.

Carmelo Galea’s play ‘Good Bye‘ is centred around the notion of Love. A juxtaposition of actions are taking place throughout the play that play with this idea of relationships between people. At first the author shows the egoistic approach taken by the Count in removing his daughter’s share of inheritance. This is contrasted by the love and hope found within Johnny and his father Maurice. Maurice is at one point ready to leave Johnny alone with his grandfather knowing that the future looked brighter. The genuine love between Maurice and his son is constantly conditioning the movements throughout the play, witnessing the Count struggling with facing the truth. The play ends in a rather poor manner, as if wanting to end the work hurriedly with a Deus Ex Machina. The gentle flow seen during the previous two acts is cut short with an immediate turn of events coming together to end the play. But I think it serves the author good to give particular attention to the relationships at hand. Galea created such a plot to facilitate the meaning of love that has no limits within this fictional and rather simple story. The audience would have loved the blend of characters within the story, having Mrs. Sherlock and Sonny Boy acting as comic relief. At certain points throughout the play, Sherlock teases Sonny Boy because of his skin colour, often calling him ‘xadin’, a monkey. After reading a number of his comedies and seeing the context in which these plays were performed, one would understand that the author’s intention was to educate not to write a masterpiece.


Galea’s contribution to tragedy was totally influenced by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Galea’s main tragedy was a passion play. He regarded passion plays as something very important that would help the audience relate to the events taking place every year during the Holy Week. Written in twelve episodes, ‘Il-Passjoni ta’ Sidna Ġesu Kristu’ was only one of the many passion plays written on pure historical research. Galea did interpret or adapt in any way the passion of the Christ, but wrote his plays on the basis of readings from the Bible, hence the historical correctness in portraying such an event. His first tragedies, ‘Christus Imperat’ and ‘Christus Vincit’ were both successful in reaching to the audience and captivating them into educational theatre. The plays, even though historical, are written in a way that plays with the emotions of the audience and manage to contain the whole event in sequences that show the timeline of events taking place throughout the passion. The personification of evil and the close adherence to the stations of the Via Crucis, would have helped in creating a stronger relationship between the mis en scene and the audience. Carmelo Galea was one of the very first Maltese people to have written a passion play in the vernacular. Each script was handed to the Curia for validation, and permission was granted to all his passion plays. 


Galea’s dramas range from mystical texts to patriotic texts. In his mystical texts, Galea creates situations in which Romantic characters are guided by Holy characters or Saints in their quest to do good in a society. The main theme in mystical texts are missionaries doing their work in foreign countries in the hopes of converting people by teaching them the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. Other mystical dramas are set in situations relevant to the context of Malta in the 1940s, in which situations of despair are overturned with the apparition of a supreme intervention. ‘Kont bil-Għatx u Sqejtni’ is a one act play, in which two wounded people are dying right next to each other on two separate hospital beds. The play develops with the patients talking to each other, explaining their lives to each other, confessing wrong doing. At a point we notice that one of the characters is a practicing Roman Catholic and that the other is an Atheist. The plot seems to be based on the short dialogue found in the Bible where Jesus Christ is talking to the two robbers whilst on the cross. The person who has faith is not scared of death, whilst the other is. The play unfolds at the end, where the person who has faith dies and whilst in despair with fear, the Atheist starts believing and is comforted by an apparition of Jesus Christ. This submission shows the author’s intention to convey Christian morals through theatre in an often direct manner.

Galea was also a keen poet, who constantly wrote poetry for publication and to be performed on stage during the intermezzi. His contribution to poetry depicting Malta can be deemed as patriotic, whereas Religious poetry was closely knit to the Romantic style. He often inserts elements in his poetry that speak of the joy of being Maltese. His love towards Malta can be attributed to the many years he spent away from the country. In almost every cover of printed material related to theatre, Galea often writes a number of verses explaining his love towards the islands. In the cover of one of his patriotic drama he mentions;

Mhux għax nixtieq xi tifħir
Lill-wiċċi hawn ridt nuri…
Iżda għax bħal iben Malta
Inħossni jiena kburi!

‘Qlub Inkurunati bil-Ward’ is a patriotic drama depicting scenes from the Great Siege of 1565. The author focuses his attention on the bravery shown by the Maltese during the battles. La Vallette is seen as a signal for hope, often mentioning his faith in God and his will power to fight for Malta. This play depicts the Turks as being people who are forced to fight the knights, at times referring to their humble acceptance of fighting for Malta. His intention of using fiction was done to elevate the audience’s nationalistic spirit whilst educating through history. A style commonly used by Romantic authors undoubtedly passed on to Carmelo Galea through the influence of Italian literature. 

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