In the play Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Dario Fo expresses his political concerns, using humour as a
way of educating his audience. He incorporates stock characters such as the Maniac and the superintendent
to address issues like abuse of power, while using farce and satire to emphasize his point. All of these
combined help to leave the responder thinking about the issues in contemporary society.
The Maniac has the main and most important role in ADOA. He can be likened to the Commedia Dell'arte character Arlecchino as both are very intelligent, but also unpredictable and known to frequently change their plans. Through the Maniac the audience learns the truth about the death of the anarchist.
The Maniac constantly changes his character in the play, representing the deception and disguise of the
police force and emphasizing how ridiculous those in power are. In Act One, Scene Two, the Maniac says,
"I'm not pushing. You've been seized by a raptus." This is a great comic line; the irony in the remark shows
how absurd the police's statements are.
Another example is when the Maniac's arm falls off and he mockingly states: "Next you'll be pulling off my leg." This is a deliberate farce to make the responder laugh. This incident is also a symbol of the cover-ups made by the police and is aimed at stressing Dario Fo's message about the injustices and lies by the police in society.
The Maniac is very intelligent and this helps him to control the authoritative figures and make them out to be foolish and weak. For example: In Act One, Scene Two, he points to a nervous twitch in his neck. This is comic because he is threatening the police with something that couldn't possibly cause them any harm. It also reflects how successfully he has asserted his status over the others.
The end of Act One, Scene Two is a powerful irony with the Maniac convincing the police officers to sing an anarchist song about liberty for the people, to prove that they have a compassionate side- "People would be happy to forgive all of your cretinous blunders if they could see two decent human beings behind it all." This is an effective ironic statement and in agreeing to do this they're only further proving the hypocritical nature of those in power to the audience.
The Maniac convinces the police to re-write their version of events; thus making them look like fools. "You know what I say...You mean draw up a third version?" (Act One Scene Two). Here he uses irony to satirize police conduct, again reinforcing Fo's idea that people in power know nothing. By making the audience laugh, Fo is also able to become closer to them, making his political views more important.
The Maniac's lines at the end of the play- "Whichever way it goes, you see, you've got to
decide"-emphasizes the point Fo makes about the fact that there are always different outcomes possible for
any event. This non-cathartic ending is also important because it allows for political debate, encouraging
the audience to take action.
As you can see, the Maniac is used as a decoy character, where he appears to be mad, but becomes normal,
while everything else is abnormal. He helps to point out the farcical lengths the Italian police went to in
order to exonerate themselves from any responsibility for the death of the anarchist.
The Superintendent is one of the main characters in ADOA. He is cynical and sarcastic and is always
offering advice. His character is a lot like that of Brighella in the Commedia Dell'arte. He represents the
police force as he is in charge (or supposed to be) in the play.
the time and still are. This is quite obviously shown in Act One, Scene Two when he speaks about the
statement made by the police- "...more like a 'correction'". He tries to 'purge' their mishappenings, using a
neutral euphemism for an unpleasant subject. This stirs anger within the responder, while making them
laugh at how openly and confidently the Superintendent expresses his corruption.
The Superintendent heightens the comedy in the play and is made to be oafish and completely unaware by
Fo, contradictory of someone who is meant to be learned. In Act Two, Scene One, the Superintendent
exclaims "...your Honour, you're taking the piss." Not only does this expose the police's disrespect for the
law and it's proceeding through the use of his farcical comment, but it is also ironic that what he has said is
such an understatement. The Superintendent is unable to grasp what the Maniac is up to. By showing the
audience his 'raw' stupidity, Dario Fo helps the responder to come to the realisation that there are actually
people like this in positions of power.
The police's controverting actions are continually presented through the Superintendent-"So he's a...hoaxer,
an imposter, a quick-change artist." The irony here is that the police have actually demonstrated that they're
the "hoaxers" and "quick change artists" in regards to the number of times that they have changed their
evidence. This irony creates a humorous side to the critical issue of police corruption while reinforcing the
idea that what happened was a serious political amalgamation of lies aimed at hiding the truth behind the
There were many themes presented in ADOA including that of the abuse of power by the authoritarian.
This occurs when a person with a higher status uses the role in a negative way. Abuse of power often occurs
for personal gain and achievement.
The characters in Dario Fo's play in some way or another reflect this theme through their actions and/or
words. For example, Feletti uses her position as a journalist to gain money and improve her status. Maniac:
"You are a journalist...but what will you achieve? A huge scandal..." Feletti: "Not a bad day's work." (Act
Two, Scene Two) This line helps the audience to see Feletti as someone who is two-faced, pretending to do
what's in the interests of the public, but having the underlying knowledge that a good story will get her 'big
bucks'. This is exactly the way Fo views journalists. The Maniac in this case is used to point out how far
individuals will go for their own benefit.
The Maniac's different disguises are used to emphasize the stupidity of the law and to show that corrupt
people are often hidden within respectable government bodies. For example: In Act One, Scene One, the
Maniac tries on different disguises asking the audiences opinion- "...No? All right forget it. What about...the
anarchist...in Rome? No?...(Disguised as the judge) Thirty years for you, forty for you, forty for you etc..."
By breaking down the fourth wall, the audience becomes co-conspirators, and part of the political
conspiracy. Through the Maniac's exaggerated and comic view of the court system, the responder also
becomes aware of the theme stated above aswell as Fo's political message.
ADOA is in itself a farce and is used to present a political view without lecturing the audience. Dario Fo
extensively uses techniques such as slapstick and satire to add to the comic effect of the play. In doing so he
is more easily able to get his political opinion across to the audience.
Slapstick is successfully used to express real issues such as the anarchist's death. As the audience comes
closer to the truth about the death, the slapstick comedy provides a macabre contrast with the underlying
seriousness. For example: In Act Two Scene One Bertozzo comes towards the Maniac, infuriated, but slips
on the glass eye and falls. This incident helps to take some of the tension away from the scene by making
the audience laugh.
Act One Scene One is critical because it sets the scene of the death of the anarchist. Again slapstick is used to relieve the audience when the Maniac begins acting like a dog, sniffing at the floor. He also uses physical comedy when he slaps and kicks the police officers. This is an unexpected thing for the audience to see and so it adds to the humour.
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