Born at Camerino in the Marches, as a child Betti moved with his family to Parma, where he later studied law, taking his degree in 1914. He volunteered and served with distinction as an artillery officer in World War I, was captured by the Austrian forces in 1917, and interned in Germany. After the war he returned to Parma and his legal studies and was appointed a magistrate in the 1920s. He married in 1930 and was appointed to the Court of Appeals in Rome, where he served until 1943. Although he was criticized for having continued as a judge under Mussolini, there is no evidence of fascist sympathies in his work. For the last decade of his life he was employed in legal archives in Rome while devoting himself primarily to his literary work.
Although he had published volumes of verse, several short-story collections, and one novel during his lifetime, few of Betti's works, apart from his later poems, won much critical notice. His twenty-five plays constitute his important work, and only after the Paris production of the best of these, Delitto all' isola delle capre (1950; translated as Crime on Goat Island, 1961), a few months before his death, did his dramatic work find an international audience. This and his other most widely produced plays – which include Frana allo scalo nord (1935; translated as Landslide, 1964), Ispezione (1947; translated as The Inquiry, 1966), and Corruzione al palazzo di giustizia (1949; translated as Corruption at the Palace of Justice) – take the form of harrowing legal examinations that result in a relentless exposure of the real motives, evil, and guilt that lie beneath the social surfaces of the characters.
Subjects: Theatre — Literature.