Mistero Buffo: Comic Mysteries stands as Fo’s most important one-person play. The playwright drew on religious and secular stories, and he played all the roles in the tradition of a medieval jongleur who presents the underdog’s disrespect for authority. For many characters Fo created a language culled from northern Italian dialects. Mixing the sacred and the burlesque, the episodes subvert accepted wisdom and challenge entrenched authority. Among the play’s twelve episodes is a key text, “The Birth of the Jongleur,” in which the jongleur figure is a serf whose land is taken from him, and whose family is destroyed through the tyranny of a feudal lord aided by the Church. The despairing peasant is saved from suicide by the appearance of an antiestablishment Christ, disguised as a stranger, who endows him with hope and the eloquence to spread the message to the oppressed underling to oppose the rich and powerful. His mission is political—to be the articulate spokesman for the exploited. The theme is repeated in a companion piece, “The Birth of the Villeyn,” as the master of a serf born from an ass’s rectum is advised by an angel to treat him harshly since he has no soul, thus predicting the underling’s sad future.
Other gospel stories bear similar approaches and themes. The title characters of “The Morality Play of the Blind Man and the Cripple,” meeting Christ en route to Calvary, attempt to flee to avoid his miraculously...
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