Some of Fo's regular playgoers requested that he write the play to provide counter-information to the misinformation being propagated about the event by the media. His aim was to present this counter-information in a way that would be accessible to all. The event took place in Milan, Italy, in December , at the end of a tumultuous decade. The two main political parties in Italy at the time were the Christian Democrats and the Italian Communists, with underground forces conspiring to keep the Communists out of government, or to introduce a non-democratic system possibly fascist or totalitarian. Two failed attempts at a coup d'etat in and added to the sense of unease among the populace. Activists reacted by demanding new politics and advocating for revolution, with students ready to join forces with striking trade unionists.
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Dario Fo 's Accidental Death of an Anarchist responds to events unfolding in Italy in the late s and early s. Generally, it looks at police corruption and suspicions regarding the government's collusion in this corruption.
More specifically, it addresses the actual death of an anarchist who was being held in police custody following the bombing of a Milan bank that killed sixteen people and wounded about ninety.
The police asserted that the anarchist's death was a suicide, that the man threw himself from a fourth-floor window in despair at being found out for his crime. At the subsequent inquest, the presiding judge declared the death not a suicide but an accident. Most Italians believed that the death was the result of overly harsh interrogation techniques, if not a case of outright murder on the part of the interrogators.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist is mainly about police corruption, underscored by the play's focus on impersonation, infiltration, and double-talk. A fast-talking major character, the Maniac, infiltrates a police headquarters. Posing as an investigating judge, he tricks the policemen into contradicting themselves and admitting that they are part of a cover-up involving the death of an anarchist.
In infiltrating police headquarters by misrepresenting himself impersonation , the Maniac reminds audiences of how most political groups in Italy, particularly left-wing groups, were infiltrated by police agents who acted as informers. The Maniac's flip-flop of point of view and statement achieves much the same effect as his impersonations do. His confusing speechifying leads to the police contradicting themselves, so that the Maniac, in all of his deceptions and distortions, is a precise reflection of what the play is designed to expose.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist is one of Fo's most popular plays both within and outside Italy. It has played around the world over the years to millions of people, a popular choice of directors who want to point to corruption in their midst. In , Methuen published a fine set of volumes of Fo's plays, which included Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Dario Fo is one of Italy's most important and well-known literary figures, along with his partner and longtime collaborator, Franca Rame.
Initially, Fo considered a career in architecture, but before he had quite finished this course of study, he discovered that he was far happier working in theatrical circles. By , Fo had decided definitely on a career on the stage and began to compose plays prolifically. In June of , Fo and Rame married; they have three children.
Running throughout Fo's career are certain constants. His plays are usually farcical with a satirical bite, and they tend to employ popular elements, such as slapstick. This said, there are also discernible stages in Fo's career.
At first, he concentrated on creating comical farces and revues, some of which were broadcast on radio. Then, Fo's plays began to resemble more typical dramas, at least in the sense that they became less episodic and less strictly comical in effect. Later, Fo's greater engagement with Italian politics in his plays became evident. Indeed, by the time of Morte accidentale di un anarchico Accidental Death of an Anarchist , Fo was so deep into Italian politics that he began gearing his plays toward working-class audiences instead of more typical theatergoers.
He continued to attract people of all social strata to his plays, yet he began to reflect, theatrically, his sense that his life as an artist is best led in the service of those holding the least amount of social and political power in Italian society.
Fo is a highly influential figure in theatrical circles in and outside Italy. He has written hundreds of pieces across genres songs, screenplays, plays and media stage, radio, film. His plays, which number more than forty, include I sani da legare "A Madhouse for the Sane," , which characterizes certain government officials as fascist sympathizers, and Mistero buffo , a controversial improvisational play, based on the Gospels, that disparages both church and state.
L'Anomal bicefalo "Two-Headed Anomaly" , produced in Milan in but not published or translated into English, is a scathing satire of Italy's prime minister , Silvio Berlusconi. Fo has always been an actor in his own work; indeed, he is as well known an actor as he is a writer. He is as beloved and respected by some as he is detested and feared by others, such as those who disagree with him politically.
He has even been arrested and put on trial for subversion, and he has been beaten up by rogue political foes, a fate also suffered by his collaborator, Franca Rame. Fo is, in short, a presence to contend with, an artist whose influence and genius are reflected in his having been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in Accidental Death of an Anarchist opens in a room in a police station, where Inspector Bertozzo is interviewing the Maniac, reviewing his arrest record.
He notes that the Maniac has been arrested many times for impersonation, the same reason for his arrest this time. The Maniac points out that although he has been arrested, he has never been convicted of a crime.
He tells the inspector that he is insane, that he cannot be charged because he is mad. The inspector, incredulous, continues posing questions to the Maniac. The Maniac evades the inspector's questions and denies any real wrongdoing. For example, in response to the inspector's accusation that the Maniac has not only been impersonating a psychiatrist but also actually seeing patients and charging them substantial sums, the Maniac points out that all psychiatrists charge too much.
The inspector replies that the specific charges are not the real issue; rather it is the question of impersonation. He points to a visiting card the Maniac has been distributing, which states that the Maniac is a psychiatrist.
The Maniac quibbles over a point of punctuation, telling the inspector that, given the placement of a particular comma on the card, he cannot be said to be misrepresenting himself at all.
Utterly frustrated, Inspector Bertozzo tells the Maniac that he can go. The Maniac leaves the room, as does the inspector, for the latter is late to a meeting. The Maniac then pokes his head back into the room and, seeing that it is empty, enters and begins rifling through papers he sees on the inspector's desk. They are arrest sheets. He destroys whatever arrest sheets he feels deserve to be destroyed, leaving intact those he believes describe truly heinous crimes. Next, the Maniac moves to the inspector's file cabinets.
He is about to set fire to the whole lot of them, when he notices a dossier whose name he begins to read out loud, as follows: "Judge's Report on the Death of the …"; "Judge's Decision to Adjourn the Inquest of…. The phone rings, and the Maniac answers. It is another police inspector, calling from the fourth floor. The Maniac's words make it clear that the audience is to recall the inspector who conducted the interview with the real anarchist who fell or was pushed from a fourth-floor window.
The Maniac's words also make it clear that this second inspector wishes to speak to Bertozzo because he has heard that a judge is coming to the station to ask questions about the anarchist's death.
The Maniac pretends that Bertozzo is in the room and making rude comments about the fourth-floor inspector. He tells the inspector that Bertozzo is saying that he might as well accept the fact that his career is over.
From the Maniac's side of the conversation, it is clear that the inspector is becoming incensed, highly insulted by what he believes is Inspector Bertozzo's rude and flippant reaction to his concerns.
When the Maniac hangs up, it occurs to him that he might impersonate the expected judge. He begins to practice characterizations of a judge. At this point, Bertozzo reenters the room. He tells the Maniac to get out of the station and is surprised when the Maniac informs him that someone is looking for him to punch him in the face. Sure enough, the fourth-floor inspector arrives outside Bertozzo's door, and the audience sees an arm stretch out to punch Bertozzo in the face.
The Maniac, a Constable, and the fourth-floor inspector, who is referred to as Sports Jacket, are in a room at the police station. The Maniac's behavior is mercurial. At one moment, he questions the inspector and Constable severely, as if he knows they are somehow responsible for the anarchist's death. This makes them very nervous. At other moments, however, he appears to be on their side, suggesting that while they might not have told the entire truth about the event, they are right to present themselves as innocent of any wrongdoing.
Although they are somewhat befuddled, the two police officers trust in the judge's good intentions. Then the Maniac, still acting as a judge, asks for the Superintendent to be called into the room. The Superintendent arrives, angry at the peremptory way in which he was summoned. Once he sees that a judge is present, he calms down. The Maniac begins questioning the Superintendent.
He asks him to review the item of evidence that says that the anarchist fell from the window because he was seized by a raptus, a state of suicidal anxiety pursuant to extreme desperation.
Sports Jacket and the Superintendent begin explaining the events that took place immediately before the anarchist's death, saying that while their line of interrogation and methods might have caused the anarchist's raptus, these methods had not been unreasonable. As the Maniac continues questioning the men, they begin to contradict themselves on many details, such as the precise time of the anarchist's raptus.
The Maniac is finally able to declare that the men lied to the media, their superiors, and the original inquest judge. Completely flustered, the two men become even more helpless in the face of the Maniac's mad patter and questions.
The act ends with the two policemen completely perplexed, singing an anarchist song in concert with the Maniac. The action begins with the same assembled characters. The Maniac is questioning the policemen about the anarchist's fall from the window. Was the anarchist leaning out for air?
Considering the weather, why was the window open at all? Once again, there are discrepancies in what the policemen said at the inquest—that is, what is on record—and what they say to the Maniac. The Maniac is able to get them to begin changing their stories and contradicting themselves. Throughout, real facts and statements from the historical inquest and actual newspaper interviews are used.
A journalist, Maria Feletti, arrives at the station to interview the Superintendent about the anarchist's death. The policemen want to send her away, but the Maniac encourages them to allow her to ask questions. The men say that the Maniac must then leave, as his presence will only give her confidence; she must not know that a judge is interested in questioning them, too. The Maniac persuades them to let him stay, saying that he will impersonate a forensics expert.
He wants to stay, he says, to help them manage the Journalist's questions. The Journalist's questions, like those of the Maniac, are peppered with facts and reports from the actual historical inquest and the real interviews with the Milan officials involved in the case. She focuses on discrepancies in the policemen's stories. First, she asks about the nature of the anarchist's fall.
There were no broken bones in the body, she says. One expects broken arms and hands in a person who has fallen from a window, because the person would try to break his or her fall. The lack of broken bones suggests that the anarchist was already dead before he fell.
The Maniac agrees with her, to the consternation of the assembled policemen.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist
W e tend to associate political theatre with the glum and the strident. At the end it rushes its ideological fences but it is a potent reminder that leftwing theatre should be an affirmation of joy rather than a whining gripe. In its native Italy, Accidental Death was obviously a brave play. Obviously we see the play at one remove in that the Pinelli case is something we have to bone up on with the help of an informative programme. Looking like Tommy Cooper on speed, he is forever diving into his Gucci carrier-bag and coming up with a new identity. At one point he dons a mop of hair, jumbo ears and dark glasses and surveys himself critically in a hand-mirror. But the moral that corruption is the rule rather than the exception is banged across through the laughter and we are even offered two alternative endings in which a reformist lady journalist is offered the chance to save her own skin or that of the police.
Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist – a heady blend of vaudeville and politics
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Accidental Death of an Anarchist Study Guide
Qty :. In its first two years of production in Italy, Dario Fo's notorious Accidental Death of an Anarchist was seen by over half a million people. It has since been performed all over the world, and become a classic of twentieth-century drama. A sharp and hilarious satire on police corruption, it concerns the case of an anarchist railway worker who, in , 'fell' to his death from a police headquarters window.