(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

A group of flaggelants bemoan the slaughter of the innocents, which is itself portrayed onstage. The slaughter is followed by a maddened mother addressing a wooden figurine representing the Madonna. The mother asks God how many innocents, including her child, need be slaughtered so Jesus can live. Then she spots what she says is her child, who has survived, and shows him to the wooden Madonna. It is a lamb.

Two beggars, one blind and one crippled, cooperate. The blind man carries the cripple, who spots Christ being flagellated. The cripple has heard that Jesus performs miraculous cures, so he wants to get away to avoid losing his affliction, which enables him to beg successfully. The blind man will not move, however, and both are cured as Christ passes. One rhapsodizes about his restored vision; the other bemoans his repaired legs.

A print of Christ as a Bacchus-like figure appears beside an angel recounting Christ’s first miracle at the marriage at Cana. The angel is interrupted by a drunk, who says Jesus transformed water not for the benefit of others but simply to enjoy the wine himself. The drunk describes a semi-inebriated Christ jumping on the table and exhorting the wedding guests to drink up.

A peasant successfully plants fallow land. A priest rules that the land belongs to a noble, but the peasant refuses to yield the land he has planted. His barn and animals are burned; his wife is raped before his children, who go on to die. Despondent, the peasant decides to hang himself. Christ passes by and asks for water, however, and, when he is sated, he gives the peasant the wit and eloquence to convey Christ’s message. He uses this power and intelligence to become a jongleur, or itinerant folk-actor

A peasant is born to sleep on the floor. His months of toil are prescribed in poetry: January, muck out the barn; February, sweat in the fields; and so forth. All he owns or does is taxed. A postscript informs the audience that paradise on earth is for bosses; for farmers or laborers, paradise comes after death. In the next scene, based on a picture of a pickpocket at the opening of Lazarus’s tomb, a bet is taken on whether Christ can revive...

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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Behan, Tom. Dario Fo: Revolutionary Theatre. Sterling, Va.: Pluto Press, 2000. Excellent discussion of Mistero Buffo and very useful bibliography, both on Mistero Buffo and on Italian politics of the 1960’s.

Ghelardi, Marco. “Doing Things with Words: Directing Fo in the UK.” In Research Papers on the Theatre of Dario Fo and Franca Rame: Proceedings of the International Conference on the Theatre of Dario Fo and Franca Rame, Cambridge, 28-30 April 2000, edited by Ed Emery. London: Red Notes, 2002. Edited by a major translator of Mistero Buffo. In addition to Ghelardi’s essay, this collection includes cogent discussions of translating Fo; puppets; Fo’s coproductions with his wife, actor Franca Rame; and the theater they founded in the 1990’s.

Hirst, David. Dario Fo and Franca Rame. New York: Macmillan, 1989. Best book on bibliography; crucial chapters on the monologues and on politics and the theater.

Jenkins, Ron. Dario Fo and Franca Rame: Artful Laughter. New York: Aperture Foundation, 2001. A trove of information, including photographs of Fo in life and on stage, discussion of his artwork, and details of stagings of Mistero Buffo without any scenery or with “historical” flats painted by the playwright.

_______. “Dario Fo: The Roar of the Clown.” In Acting (Re)considered: Theories and Practices, edited by Phillip B. Zarrilli. New York: Routledge, 1995. Excellent essay on Fo’s views on acting and his performance technique.

Maeder, Costantino. “Mistero Buffo: Negating Textual Certainty, the Individual, and Time.” In Dario Fo: Stage, Text, and Tradition, edited by Joseph Farrell and Antonio Scuderi. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000. Addresses many aesthetic features of the 1969 and 1977 versions of the play and their geneses. A clearly written, cogent, and important essay.

Mitchell, Tony. Dario Fo: People’s Court Jester. London: Methuen, 1985. Indispensable chapters include “Mistero Buffo: Popular Culture, the Giullari and the Grotesque” and “Biography and Output, 1951-1967.” Giullari is Italian for medieval and early Renaissance street actors. The subchapter “Mistero Buffo in London” contains a trove of information about Fo’s type of theater and its reception in the United Kingdom into the 1980’s.

Scuderi, Antonio. Dario Fo and Popular Performance. New York: Legas, 1998. Indispensable. In addition to the many Mistero Buffo sections, it includes important sections on adapting popular techniques, the dialectic of text and performance, subverting religious authority, and the power of humor.