Themes and Meanings

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Dario Fo’s design, throughout the play, is to activate the audience’s indignation at police and corruption, indignation that creates antipathy for the corrupt superstructure of European capitalism. Firmly entrenched in Marxist political ideology and Brechtian theatrical practice, the play treats the necessity of immediate political action, particularly in the English version, where alternative endings are staged, clarifying the necessity of choice. The newspaper reporter must decide to either let the Maniac go, so that his information can be made public, or unlock the police and ensure her own safety. If the anarchist escapes, she becomes his accomplice. If she unlocks the police, she sides with the politics of oppression. As the Maniac’s last words say, “Oh Dio! Whichever way it goes, you see, you’ve got to decide. Goodnight.” Liberal and radical theorizing about the question amounts to intellectual grandstanding and is disallowed by the play, which opens the motivation and the necessity for action.

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In relation to the theme of exposure and choice, the Maniac is the artist/clown whose capability for disguise comments on the “theatrics” of the political situation. In the manner of playwright Luigi Pirandello, Fo’s Maniac calls attention to the theatrical illusion as it is being played, often poking fun at the author as well as satirically shredding the police, the government, and world politics. In this way, he implies that the artist’s role is trickster, and that the artist’s (the Maniac’s) function is to alter, subvert, and direct the investigation that is the play. Because the artist sees and understands the corruption around him, he can lead and trick the instigators into revealing their own complicity.

Despite the many slapstick moments and the zaniness of the play’s activity, the play drives home its satirical intent. As Fo writes in his introduction to the English adaptation, “we can still laugh, with a degree of cynicism, at the macabre dance which power and the civilization that goes with it performs daily, without waiting for carnival.” Rooted in Fo’s understanding of the absurd, then, is a tragic view of state crime and brutality; laughter at real events promotes an understanding of their criminality.

As a playwright, Fo serves the working people, altering each performance and each edition of the play to suit the audience and the moment. Any meaning or thematic content, therefore, partly arises from the play’s ability to reach a particular audience and is conveyed through Fo’s masterful performance as much as the text. The foolishness, the slapstick humor, the Maniac’s amazing protean ability, serve to add a vital warmth and powerful sense of humanity to what might otherwise be a very grim theatrical experience. The laughter invites the audience into the world of the Maniac, who is, in his madness, outside the grip of power. Metaphysically and politically, the experience of the play is freedom itself.


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Reform versus Revolution

Those who wish to change society may think that instituting reforms is the way to go about it. Reformers have faith in existing structures and believe that these structures need only be perfected—or corrupt elements within them be rooted out—for desired changes to come about. Others who wish to change society for the better believe that what is called for is revolution, a radical restructuring of society and its institutions. Revolutionaries tend to think that reforms are mere bandages on never-healing sores, leading to temporary alleviation of a persistent problem, such as poverty, but never eliminating it. They believe, in short, that existing structures must be dismantled and that entirely new ones must take their place.

Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist is infused with revolutionary zeal,...

(The entire section contains 1468 words.)

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  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Critical Essays
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  • Teaching Guide
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