Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Accidental Death of an Anarchist Character List


Bertozzo is the amalgam of several real-life police officers. In Italy, jokes about the carabinieri, one of the three police forces, are common; Bertozzo fits the stereotype that is typically the target of these jokes.

We meet Bertozzo at the beginning of the play as he interviews the Maniac regarding his latest impersonation. His lines are humorless and serve as a means for the Maniac to display his own wit. He is absent for the majority of the "inquiry" the Maniac conducts with the Inspector and the Superintendent but returns as the play approaches its climax, bringing in a replica of a bomb destroyed by the police. He recognizes the Maniac and tries to reveal his true identity to the others, but the Superintendent and the Inspector, thinking Bertozzo will admit that the Maniac is a judge to the Journalist, do whatever they can to silence him.

Throughout the play, Bertozzo is the butt of jokes and recipient of mocking laughter and physical abuse. This contributes to the play's slapstick humor, while reminding the audience of the abuse the anarchist likely endured during his interrogation. 

The Maniac

The Maniac is the pivotal character in the play. While he has no counterpart in real life, he speaks the majority of the lines and was played by Fo himself in the original staging. It is through the Maniac that Fo satirizes the police, reveals the inconsistencies in their stories, demonstrates the questionable nature of their interrogation techniques, and presents counter-information to what was being presented about the case in the press.

The Maniac has been diagnosed with an "acting mania" and has been charged twelve times for impersonation, most recently while pretending to be a psychiatrist. He uses his talents to investigate what really happened the night of the anarchist's death, adopting the persona first of a judge reopening the inquiry, then a forensics expert, and finally a bishop. Through the Maniac, Fo insinuates that police spies commonly impersonated members of political groups. The Maniac's constantly shifting persona and hyperactive nature may also contribute to the "alienation effect," preventing audience members to become so absorbed in the play that they fail to think critically about its meaning. 

The character of the Maniac has its roots in the Italian theatre tradition of commedia dell'arte, popular from the mid-16th to the mid-18th centuries. In commedia dell'arte, the actors were at the heart of the playmaking process, improvising lines rather than blindly following a script. Plots consisted primarily of stock characters rather than individuals, and actors usually wore masks. The most celebrated character was the Harlequin, or trickster, most commonly seen with a long, hooked nose, a half-mask over his eyes and mouth, and a multicolored costume. Fo's updated version of the Harlequin is devious, irreverent, and a free spirit. He contradicts convention and owes loyalty to none. As a trickster, the Maniac deceives the policemen by interrogating and lying to them, just as they had done to the anarchist. Afterwards he leads them to believe he is on their side, only to later agree with the Journalist in her insinuations of their culpability. At times he plays the role of a clown, convincing the policemen to join him in a rousing song or accidentally swallowing his glass eye. While the Maniac is certifiably insane, the character exposes the true madness of this tumultuous time in Italy's history.


The constables are foolish bystanders, reminiscent of the bumbling, incompetent policemen of detective stories. They follow orders immediately and agree with whatever anyone says. By depicting the constables as such simple- and single-minded people, Fo pokes fun at the hierarchy of the police bureaucracy.

Though there were four constables in the office at the time of Pinelli's death, there is no direct link to any of the real-life constables to the characters in the play.


The Inspector is based closely on commissario Luigi Calabresi, who was commonly believed by leftist organizations to have been directly involved with the death of the anarchist Pino Pinelli. He told the media that the far left was responsible for the Piazza Fontana bombings despite having no proof, led the police raid on the anarchist circle, and invited Pinelli to come to the police station. The Lotta Continua, a far left newspaper, gave him the nickname the "Window-Straddler" due to his supposed penchant for having suspects sit on the windowsill during interrogations and taunting them to jump. Calabresi had known ties with both the CIA and the Republican Right in the United States and had become a target of hatred. In his libel suit against the editor of the Lotta Continua, the focus of the court case shifted to whether Calabresi had caused the anarchist's death. The case had just begun proceedings when the play originally premiered.

In the play, the Inspector believes that the Maniac is a judge who has come to reopen the inquiry into the death of the anarchist. He tries to prove his innocence, but ends up incriminating himself through the Maniac's clever questioning. Fo satirizes Calabresi mercilessly, using the Maniac to point out the inconsistencies in his story. He also depicts him as having a temper and lacking a sense of humor, punching Bertozzo in the face when he thinks he has ridiculed him.


The Superintendent is based on Marcello Guida, the head of police in Milan. While he was not present at Pinelli's death, he took part in the cover-up, denying at first any records of the interrogation and later changing his story. He was also involved in the framing of Pietro Valpreda, another anarchist who was wrongly accused of planting bombs and imprisoned for three years. Guida had been a government official under Mussolini and led a prison camp for anti-fascist activists during World War II. In this version of the play, references to his prison camp activities were changed to activities with mercenaries in Bosnia to add a historical context familiar to a contemporary British audience.

Like the Inspector, the Superintendent believes that the Maniac is a judge investigating what happened the night of the anarchist's death. He reacts defensively when he thinks the Maniac is against him, but is happy to go along with whatever the Maniac says if it will get him out of trouble. He and the Inspector have somewhat interchangeable roles, as both were guilty of questionable practices that contributed to the anarchist's death. 


The Journalist was inspired by Camilla Cederna, a real-life journalist who investigated the case of Pino Pinelli's death. She uncovered police corruption and assisted Fo in his research for the play. Unlike the other comedic characters, the Journalist is a straight role. She is an accurate portrayal of an experienced journalist on a quest to reveal the truth. Through her line of questioning, Fo is able to bring up themes such as police infiltration, the government's strategy of tension, and the role of scandals in suppressing revolution. 

Because there is no inherent comedic value to the Journalist's lines, some portrayals of the Journalist have been exaggerated through ridiculous costumes or squeaky voice. However, Fo did not intend for her to be funny, but rather to advance the politics of the play.