Accidental Death of an Anarchist


Dario Fo

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Accidental Death of an Anarchist Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Dario Fo

Dario Fo was born and raised in the Italian Alps, where his mother was a shirtmaker and writer, and his father was a railway station master and amateur actor. As a child, Fo spent countless hours listening to local fishermen and glassblowers tell jokes and tall tales, which inspired an early interest in comedy. While studying art and architecture in Milan during World War II, he was drafted into the army. But he refused to fight for Mussolini and Hitler’s fascist cause, so he ran away from camp and started working with his father to help Jewish refugees secretly escape to Switzerland instead. After the war, he quit his architecture studies and took up acting and painting instead. He began performing comic monologues on the national radio, then transitioned to the stage. After briefly working in Rome’s film industry and then returning to Milan to continue putting on plays, Fo and his wife, the actress Franca Rame, finally achieved international recognition for the 1959 play Archangels Don’t Play Pinball. Fo and Rame spent the next decade working in the commercial theater. But due to the political messages in their work, they faced attacks, censorship, and even a travel ban by the U.S. government. In protest, they decided to quit mainstream theater and found an independent, collectively run theater company instead. They set up a headquarters and community center in an abandoned Milan building, then started traveling around Italy, putting on their work in small, often improvised venues for working-class audiences. They continued doing so for four decades, even as the police raided their plays, the people they lampooned sued them, and a fascist militia even kidnapped and raped Rame. Fo’s most famous plays include Mistero Buffo (1969), Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970), and Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! (1974), which have been translated, adapted, and performed all around the world. But he also wrote dozens of other satires mocking figures as diverse as Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, Christopher Columbus, and even the Pope. In what was widely regarded as a shocking and unconventional decision, Fo was awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature—and he spent much of his acceptance speech mocking his audience. He also ran for Mayor of Milan in 2006 but finished second in the left-wing coalition primary. He continued writing and producing new work until his death in 2016.
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Historical Context of Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Like most of Dario Fo’s plays, Accidental Death of an Anarchist satirizes real events in order to critique modern industrial capitalism and state bureaucracy. In 1969, a bombing at Italy’s National Agricultural Bank headquarters killed 17 people. Three days later, Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist whom the police suspected of planning the bombing, died after mysteriously falling out the police station window. As Fo predicted in the play, later investigations would reveal that the Ordine Nuovo, a neo-fascist organization with deep links to the police and military, was actually responsible for the bombing. They hoped to pin attacks like the bombing on Communists, then use these attacks as an excuse to persecute left-wing activists and make the public more receptive to militarization and authoritarianism. With roots in Mussolini’s totalitarian Fascist dictatorship, their long-term goal was to reestablish the same kind of government in the future. What Fo could not have known when he wrote and staged this play in 1970 is that similar attacks would continue for more than a decade, throughout the so-called Years of Lead, with bombings (mostly by the far right) assassinations (mostly by the far left) becoming regular features of Italian political life. In fact, in 1972 after Giuseppe Pinelli’s death, left-wing assassins killed Luigi Calabresi, the police officer who oversaw Pinelli’s interrogation (and insisted to the public that Pinelli’s death was a suicide). It would take nearly a decade for the Ordine Nuovo members responsible for the bombing to be convicted and more than 30 years for the appeals process to conclude.

Other Books Related to Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Besides Accidental Death of an Anarchist, the best-known of Dario Fo’s roughly 70 plays are Mistero Buffo, a series of blasphemous monologues mocking authority and the Bible in the style of a traveling medieval jester, and Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!, a satire about inflation and economic crisis. His first widely performed work was Archangels Don’t Play Pinball, which mocks modern capitalism and bureaucracy by telling the story of a man who marries a prostitute and has to legally register as a dog to get his identity papers. Some of his most controversial and frequently censored works include Mother’s Marijuana is the Best, The First Miracle of the Infant, The Open Couple, and The Pope and the Witch. The strongest influence on Fo’s approach to theater is arguably the Italian tradition of commedia dell’arte, and particularly the work of medieval Venetian playwright Angelo Beloco, including Il Parlamento de Ruzante and L’Anconitana. But Fo was also deeply influenced by the work of other contrarian playwrights, including Eduardo De Filippo, Bertolt Brecht, and Molière. Studies of Fo’s life and work include Tony Mitchell’s Dario Fo: People’s Court Jester and Antonio Scuderi’s Dario Fo: Framing, Festival, and the Folkloric Imagination.
Key Facts about Accidental Death of an Anarchist
  • Full Title: Accidental Death of an Anarchist (Morte accidentale di un anarchico)
  • When Written: 1969–1970
  • Where Written: Milan, Italy
  • When Published: Premiered December 5, 1970 in Milan
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism
  • Genre: Drama, Political Satire, Black Comedy
  • Setting: Milan Central Police Headquarters
  • Climax: The Maniac reveals his true identity, then forces Feletti and the audience to choose between letting the policemen die and letting them go.
  • Antagonist: The police, corruption, fascism

Extra Credit for Accidental Death of an Anarchist

The Protest Continues. Fo wanted performers around the world to adapt Accidental Death of an Anarchist to their contemporary contexts by modifying details in the script and adding timely political criticism, as necessary. Even more than 50 years after the play’s original run, theater companies around the world continue to do so, staging Accidental Death of an Anarchist in part as a form of protest against police brutality.