Book Review : Accidental Death of an Anarchist


Dario Fo is an Italian playwright best known for works like ‘Mistero Buffo’, ‘Archangels Don’t Play Pinball’, and ‘Accidental Death Of An Anarchist’; among many others. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997 for his contributions to the world of theatre and literature. His works have been translated into more than 30 languages and have been staged worldwide. ‘Accidental Death of An Anarchist’ is based on a true event, which happened in Italy (1969) involving the ‘murder’ of a prime suspect in a bombing case. It has been performed all across the globe and has a Hindi adaptation playing in India as well.


The play works through a farcical structure, which helps in pointing out police corruption and government collusion in it. The strategy of tension is worked out through the narrative, which shows how authorities control public opinion through fear, propaganda, psychological warfare etc. Fo challenges the structure of a normal investigative text by suggesting that investigation is not always about arriving at the truth but about regulation and control by the authorities. There are a lot of scatological references in the text. There is a lot of emphasis on physicality and a denial of seriousness. It provides a new perspective regarding the working of the political system and shows the hollowness of the system of enquiry.


The story revolves around the murder investigation of Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist accused of bombing the national agrarian bank at Piazza Fontana. He committed suicide/fell/ was thrown out of the fourth floor window of the police headquarters. The Madman is the central character who, impersonating a judge, forces the police to admit their role in the death. The other characters include three policemen along with a female journalist who conducts an independent enquiry herself. The play basically highlights the flaws in the procedure of investigation.

The play shows how the madman infiltrates the police headquarters and tries to trick the police into believing that they are a part of the cover up. He uses the police investigation technique on the policemen and forces them to re-enact the events leading up to the death of the anarchist.

The play is divided into two acts. The first act shows Inspector Bertozzo interrogating the Madman on charges of impersonation. The Madman then outwits Bertozzo and moves on to play the part of a judge and questions the Superintendent and Inspector Pisani. The second act introduces a female journalist, Maria Feletti, who wants to conduct her own enquiry into the suicide/murder/accident of the anarchist. The plot unfolds with the Madman trying to outwit the policemen and forcing them into admitting their complicity in the death. The focus is not on the police admittance but on the way it is worked out.


Fo uses theatre as a ground for suggesting political action. It is one of the most important pieces of literature to have come out in the past few decades. It is farcical, subversive, anti establishment, and questions the nature of investigation, disciplinary mechanisms et cetera. Another important aspect of this text is that the plot is secondary to performance. The focus is not on the story but on the way it is enacted. It brings into question the veracity of the law and order enterprise. It shows how truth can be produced, altered and manipulated according to the needs of the elite class.

It exhibits how scandal fuels social democracy – Which means that once a law is broken, stricter laws replace it; thereby, reinforcing the stronghold of the government. It is important in demonstrating how authorities can manipulate and influence public opinion through a system of laws that work largely to serve a certain class of people. The madman investigates this process from outside the purview of the establishment. Even though it tackles some serious issues, it does so through hilarity. I would suggest this book to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of the politics behind the judicial system, which embodies a major part of modern society.

Anirudh Madhavan