Dario Fo Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Dario Fo’s songs and poems are collected in Ballate e canzoni (1974; ballads and songs). He has also designed sets and written scripts for several films, including Carlo Lizzani’s Lo Svitato (1956). Ci ragiono è canto (1966), Ci ragiono è canto No. 2 (1969), and Ci ragiono è canto No. 3 (1973)—which can be translated as “I think things out and sing about them,” numbers one, two, and three—are spectacles based on Italian folk and traditional songs. Fo also has written plays and programs for television and numerous monologues, often with Franca Rame.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Dario Fo is concerned above all with reviving a tradition of “popular” theater, presenting a satirical critique of modern society, especially of authority and the powers that be, and highlighting corruption and injustice. He is deeply involved in contemporary issues, and his texts remain flexible so as to reflect current changes (some plays—for example, Accidental Death of an Anarchist—present the critic with at least three, sometimes more, versions, differing slightly from one another, as the situation that engendered them changed and developed). Fo himself traces his inspiration back to the medieval giullare, the joker, who performed at fairs and in marketplaces, entertaining the people, expressing their complaints and grievances in a popular form of political satire (for which he was not infrequently persecuted or even executed by the authorities). In spite of the political content of his plays, however, Fo stresses the fact that he does not belong to any communist or Marxist party, because bureaucracy, in whatever guise, is “destructive.” As a modern-day giullare, beyond political commentary and satire, Fo aims at all times to entertain his audience, to make people laugh, “because laughter activates intelligence.” The label most often applied to Fo is that of “clown”: not so much a circus clown, although clownish antics often form part of his act, but a farcical Chaplinesque clown, with a sharp bite behind the laughter. Fo is a virtuoso performer of immense skill and dynamism, described as a superstar by enthusiastic reviewers. With the serious popular tradition of the giullare, he has combined the stage antics and tricks of the commedia dell’arte, along with its tradition of improvisation.

In what is a close working partnership with his wife, Franca Rame, he takes his theater to the working class, performing in labor halls, workers’ cooperatives, factories, and market squares. With his wife and members of his company, he has traveled widely abroad, arousing both enthusiasm and polemic. In 1981, he was awarded the Danish Sonnig Prize, and in 1987, he won an Obie Award. Nominated for the Nobel Prize in 1977, he won the Nobel Prizein Literature in 1997. According to Tony Kushner in The Nation, “Fo deserves to win the Nobel Prize for his life of theatrical activism, yes, his dedication to progressive politics. . . . Fo deserves to win because, as the Vatican . . . put it, he writes debatable texts. He has dedicated his genius to making everything he touches debatable.”

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What does Dario Fo’s work owe to the commedia dell’arte?

What is traditional and what is antagonistic to conventional religious themes in Mistero Buffo: Comic Mysteries?

Consider the suitability of the protagonist of Accidental Death of an Anarchist being a “maniac.”

Explain why farce is an appropriate dramatic form in Archangels Don’t Play Pinball.

Explain the force of improvisation in Fo’s plays.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Behan, Tom. Dario Fo: Revolutionary Theatre. Sterling, Va.: Pluto Press, 2000. Analysis and criticism of Fo’s theatrical works. Bibliography and index.

Cairns, Christopher, ed. The Commedia dell’arte from the Renaissance to Dario Fo. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1988. A useful reference. Essays by Joseph Farrell, Ed Emery, and Stuart Hood lucidly discuss, respectively, Fo’s use of a medieval minstrel figure (giullare) and commedia clown figure (zanni), a commedia-influenced Fo play, and translation and editing problems with Fo’s work.

Farrell, Joseph. Dario Fo and Franca Rame: Harlequins of the Revolution. London: Methuen, 2001. An examination of the collaboration between Fo and Rame, with emphasis on their political activities. Bibliography and index.

Farrell, Joseph, and Antonio Scuderi, eds. Dario Fo: Stage, Text, and Tradition. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000. Contains a comprehensive introduction and eleven well-selected essays treating the man and his work by respected Fo scholars. Particularly interesting are Bent Holm’s discussion of Fo’s plays and performances from 1957 to 1967, Walter Valeri’s view of Fo as actor-playwright, and Antonio Scuderi’s insight into Fo’s use of adapting principles and techniques of ancient and medieval Italian comedy to a contemporary context. Includes photographs of Fo, three of his sketches, and an informative index.

Jenkins, Ronald Scott. Dario Fo and Franca Rame: Artful Laughter. New York: Aperture, 2001. A look at Fo and Rame as dramatists and the state of theater during the twentieth century in Italy. Bibliography.

Kushner, Tony. “Fo’s Last Laugh—I.” The Nation 265, no. 14 (November 3, 1997): 4-5. Kushner rejects Vatican disdain for Fo as a Nobel Prize winner, finds Fo most worthy of the Nobel award, and praises his life of courageous political activism. Fo’s stature as a performer, researcher, and playwright is specially admired.

Mitchell, Tony. Dario Fo: People’s Court Jester. 2d rev. and extended ed. New York: Methuen, 1999. An examination of Fo’s drama with emphasis on his political views. Contains a stage history, bibliography, and index.