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Posted 17 October 2016 - 12:27 AM
"Dario Fo, the Italian dramatist, who has died aged 90, was best known for political farces such as Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!; his work and radical views were both praised and reviled in his native country.
In October 1997, when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature – the first Italian playwright to be chosen for the award since Luigi Pirandello in 1934 – the Swedish Academy described Fo as one “who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden”. Certainly the announcement rankled with many within the Italian literary and political establishment.
Fo’s critics considered him to be a performer above all else, whose plays could not be separated from his role as actor and director. Others felt that his contribution was confined to his earlier decades, having peaked in the 1970s.
The literary critic Geno Pampaloni wrote: “A Nobel Prize? It’s a joke.” Meanwhile, the neo-fascist National Alliance party protested vigorously, and there was strong dissent from Vatican newspapers.
Despite such public excoriation Fo never yielded to his detractors. If anything, he delighted in the chance to hit back. In the wake of the Academy’s decision he remarked: “It’s not bad at all getting a Nobel, and making so many old fossils explode with rage.”
His acceptance speech, Contra Jogulatores Obloquentes (“Against Jesters Who Defame and Insult”), took a more measured view. Drawing his title from a decree issued by Emperor Frederick II of Swabia, allowing citizens to attack and even kill jesters without fear of repercussion, he praised the Swedish Academy for the bravery of their decision, linking himself with the long-standing heritage of mummers, acrobats and storytellers.
He described his influences, including Molière and Angelo Beolco (“Il Ruzzante”), the 16th century Italian playwright and father of the commedia dell’arte whose local dialect Fo shared, and to whom he dedicated half the medal.
But he still punctuated his tribute with contemporary political asides, and his meditation on Ruzzante’s comic talent ended on a rueful note: “Laughter”, he observed, “does not please the mighty.”
His words struck too close to home for the authorities. Fo’s speech was broadcast in a multitude of countries, including North Korea; but in Italy it was edited down to a four-minute news bulletin.
Born on March 24 1926 at Sangiano near Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy, he was the oldest of the three children of Felice Fo, a railway stationmaster and amateur actor. He claimed to have grown up in a village primarily populated by smugglers and fishermen and that “the way these people used their eyes was to become my main weapon as a performer”.
As a teenager he wanted to study painting, but, before he could begin, the Second World War was declared and he spent most of the next four years helping his father to smuggle Allied fugitives across the border into Switzerland. "
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