- Published: November 17, 2022
- Updated: November 17, 2022
- Language: English
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ASSIGNMENT 3 CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE Dario Fo Accidental Death of an Anarchist Anisha Khanna B. A. (H. ) English Third Year Q) The play ‘ Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ makes use of farce and burlesque in order to question the accepted version of contemporary history. Discuss. ‘ But everything must be done through irony. ’1 -Dario Fo Dario Fo explores the play between power, truth and knowledge, delving into their relation with violence, through the theatrical devices of farce, burlesque, irony and slapstick comedy. He once said] you could instead simply say, “ To quote Fo… ” “ he once said ” sounds quite informal. , “ Comedy makes the subversion of the existing state of affairs possible. ” It is exactly this that he attempts to do through his plays. In Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Fo employs various theatrical devices to focalize and foreground the ‘ truth’ as against the notion of it, widely propagated such that it is naturalized in the consciousness of all.
Comedy, farce, irony and such other devices are so crucial to his plays because, he, much like Brecht, wants his audiences to think. These devices, amongst others, enable the audience to take a distanced stance and analyze what they are being presented with. The effect created and/or the thought process triggered by these devices surely stays for longer than an effect created by devices of naturalist or illusionist theatre that are aimed at imitation or mirroring the real. Fo’s grotesque jokes, however, stay with the audience.
Since the aim of illusionist and naturalistic theatre is such, the spectator identifies and relates with the character, noticing no difference between the actor and the character, and leaves the theatre feeling but not thinking. Fo, working on the model of Brecht’s alienation effect, makes apparent that which is buried under multiple layers through its feature of jest. This act of thinking enables an exploration of the workings of power that suppresses revolution by offering, an illusion of a solution. 1Christopher Cairns, “ Introduction: Accidental Death of an Anarchist”, Worldview Publications, 2011 Madman: … People thought: ‘ The rot’s there, so let it float to the surface… ‘ We’re swimming about in it – even swallowing some of it – but nobody comes round telling us that everything’s fine and dandy, and that’s what counts! … … Spot on! Manure! Scandal is the fertilizer of social democracy! ” This is to say that people were happy and content with the illusion of efforts being made in the direction of the attainment of justice and the maintenance of freedom. They were happy to see that authorities were there to inform them about what was not ‘ fine and dandy. Scandals are created by the state to maintain power and strength, as they give the state an opportunity to show their efficiency, look officious and put the blame on someone. The last is the most important because that is what the public, he says, cares about – not being told that everything is ‘ fine’. The state, however, as Fo points out following from Gramsci’s theory, is not the centre of power but only the mediator of it. Fo places the power with the middle class, the ideology of which, he believes, pervades the consciousness of all, alarmingly – that of the working class as well.
Thus, to deconstruct the notions of truth thus constructed and to undo the ideological indoctrination thus carried out, Fo introduces his form of theatre that engages one in thought, realization and discussion. The techniques of comedy, farce and burlesque employed by Fo include ‘ didactic introductions & interventions, ostensibly spontaneous byplay with the audience, grotesque exaggeration of slapstick conventions, blocking patterns in which a background figure (usually the fool) “ upstages” a power figure, corporeal distortions (or “ disarticulations” of the actor’s body), and conscious fragmentation of character and script alike. 2 The first and most important device of farce is the figure of the maniac or the madman playing different roles, fooling those around him to believe in his role-play. It is clear that the maniac, impersonating as and when possible, is a theatrical device. Joylynn Wing points out that he is the manifestation of the ‘ tricky slave of roman comedy, vice character of medieval drama, and the resourceful villain in Shakespeare. ’3 Even before the proper acts of impersonation, he makes up the presence and utterance of Inspector Bertozzo on a phone call from the inspector from the fourth floor, Inspector Pisani.
He arouses anger in Pisani by playing the ventriloquist and putting strange, rude and instigating words in Bertozzo’s mouth, constantly spitting raspberries and insulting Pisani. This, later, leads to Bertozzo being presented by a punch and the madman’s advice to Bertozzo to duck only acts as a catalyst to increase the intensity of the comedy in the scene. From here begins the long series of role-play, farce and burlesque that become devices that Fo uses to unearth and to bring to light that which has long been veiled. 2 3 Ibid. 1 Ibid. 1
The madman’s suggestion to the cops to jump out of the window is the second instance where the burlesque occurs. The linguistic paradox where language is arbitrary and reconstructed- official as opposed to colloquial, also proves to be entertaining, The wielders of power uttering non sense gibberish is funny but also plays a larger purpose – that of showing arbitrary nature of the utterances of the power holders – who seemed to be, in Althusserian terms, only deputies of state power where ‘ state’ was a product of the ruling class, that is the middle class.
Furthermore, the transition of Fo’s use of farce and nursery rhyme to melodrama and serious comment is a juxtaposition that adds to the purpose of the Brechtian distancing. The deduction of the anarchist wearing three shoes and thus, having three feet is represented with utmost seriousness and belief. To explain the same, an equally funny excuse is thought off, the fascists police men are forced to sing the Internationale and inspector Pisani recalling his love of trains (‘ whoo whoo’) – all add to the effect of the burlesque and comic.
The madman’s constant role playing and shifting of roles, from the magistrate, to the forensic expert to a priest, and his actions and words add to the elements of comic, burlesque and the farcical. Playing the forensic expert, he is dressed in the most grotesque way possible. His accessories are a wooden leg, an attached arm, a glass eye and so on. Further, his hand keeps falling, he removes his wooden leg, scratches his eye pad and this collectively adds to the effect of the burlesque.
An addition to this effect is, Bertozzo who is not part of play within play or the enactment, doesn’t understand it and tries to disrupt it. He is met by slapstick violence- pinched, punched and kicked, gagged and wrestled to the floor. Besides as soon as the madman stops acting or role-playing, that is steps into the arena of the real, he is discovered. An understanding, rooted in this, is that the maniac as forensic expert and, especially, in parts, as the priest is considered insane while he utters the truth. Those, making up stories and lies are considered sane.
This sane-insane opposition is one of the elements that cause the audience to think. Thus, focusing and foregrounding through farce and burlesque, Fo does not only question the accepted version of history but also goes further to show what is not archived. Bibliography 1. Wing, Joylynn, “ The Performance of Power and the Power of Performance: Rewriting the Police State in Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist”, Worldview Publications, 2011 2. Cairns, Christopher, “ Introduction: Accidental Death of an Anarchist”, Worldview Publications, 2011 Good! 17/25 Pb.