Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Accidental Death of an Anarchist Literary Elements


Political drama, farce


English (translated from Italian)

Setting and Context

Office in a police station; original setting was Milan, Italy; this translation is set in England. Time is "now." The play was originally performed in 1970, but references have been updated for later performances.

Narrator and Point of View

There is no narrator per se and therefore no point of view as traditionally defined. However, the audience views the action through the eyes of the Maniac. At one point he speaks to the audience, explaining his thoughts about impersonating a judge, and we understand that the Maniac is taking on various personas even as the characters on stage are fooled by his disguises.

Tone and Mood

The play is a farce, full of bawdy, slapstick humor. It is also political theater, which aims to engage the audience in understanding the tragedy of an innocent man's death while held in police custody. Thus the mood is light, but the comic interludes are interspersed between more serious moments of biting commentary on police and government corruption. Much of the humor is derived from satire, in which the Maniac makes fun of the police and exposes the ridiculousness of their story.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The Maniac is the protagonist, through whose eyes the audience sees the action unfold. The Inspector and his boss, the Superintendent, are the two primary antagonists.

Major Conflict

The Maniac wishes to expose the truth of what happened the night the anarchist fell to his death, while the police wish to exonerate themselves.


The climax occurs at the end of Act II, when Bertozzo pulls out a gun, handcuffs the others, and forces the Maniac to reveal his identity. After doing so, the Maniac takes control by threatening to blow everyone up with the bomb. He reveals a tape recorder that has taped their conversations, which he will share with the media and politicians to cause an enormous scandal. To everyone's surprise, he then jumps out the window and detonates the bomb in the courtyard.


The beginning of the play contains several moments of foreshadowing. When Bertozzo is surprised the Maniac has never played a judge before, the Maniac says he would like to; a few moments later, he gets his chance. The fact that he has impersonated a bishop three times may also foreshadow the fact that he will do so again.

The Maniac engages in an ironic form of foreshadowing when he tells Bertozzo "I love it here with you, among policemen. I feel safe" (9). If the audience is not already familiar with the case of the anarchist, they will soon learn that being among policemen was anything but safe for Pinelli.




The entire play is an allusion to an event that occurred in Italy, even though the English version takes place in Britain. Many of the characters represent real-life people: the Inspector is Luigi Calabresi, the officer in charge of Pinelli's interrogation; the Superintendent is Marcello Guida, chief of police at the time; and the Journalist is Camilla Cederna, known for her in-depth reporting on controversial subjects.

The play contains various other allusions to people and events. When the Maniac impersonated a psychiatrist and charged a family 200 pounds, his fee, he claimed, made the family think he was as good as Professor Anthony Clare, a psychiatrist on the radio and TV who engaged in a form of self-analysis with celebrities. He refers also to Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis; Mikhail Bakunin, founder of revolutionary anarchism; and Otto Weininger, a German author.

Many allusions to current events have been changed in the translation. In this version, for instance, the Maniac asks the Inspector: "Is it true your boss used to run a mercenary outfit in Bosnia in the 1990s?" (12) In the original, Fo referenced instead an anti-fascist prison camp in southern Italy that had been run by Marcello Guida, chief of police.


The open window is a recurring image, used to constantly bring attention back to the issue at hand: uncovering the truth of what happened the night the anarchist fell out of a fourth-story window while in police custody. The Maniac and the Superintendent both ask to shut the window at times, and the Maniac pushes the Inspector and the Superintendent towards the window after he demonstrates the desperation the anarchist likely felt while under interrogation.


The character of the Maniac is a paradox of sorts: he is dedicated to revealing the truth, yet he does so through impersonating others and telling lies. His discourse on scandals reveals another paradox: is there really any value in revealing a scandalous truth if all it does is let the public vent their anger, then go on with their lives?


The Maniac, in his role as judge, interrogates the Inspector and the Superintendent in the same way that they interrogated the anarchist, telling them lies that led them to desperation just as they did to the anarchist.


Paradoxically, the Maniac can be thought of as a personification of reason and morality. Even the Journalist is motivated by her desire to get a good story, while the Maniac has no obvious ulterior motives behind his pursuit of truth. We see his desire for justice, too, when in Act I, Scene I he destroys the files of people he feels do not deserve to be punished while leaving those that do.

Use of Dramatic Devices

The play makes use of the alienation effect, a term coined by playwright Bertolt Brecht, in which the audience is hindered from identifying with the characters or getting immersed in the storyline. One technique by which Fo achieves this effect is having actors speak directly with the audience, thereby removing the invisible "fourth wall" between actors and audience and reminding audience members that they are watching a play.

As a farce, the play also makes use of bawdy and slapstick humor. Fo believes that laughter allows people to feel anger without letting it dissipate, as it could in a tragedy where the audience cleanses themselves from negative emotions through tears. This type of humor is populist in nature, as it is accessible to everyone regardless of their level of education or economic class.

The stage directions in the play are minimal. They were added after the fact by his wife, Franca Rame, who prepared most of Fo's plays for publication. Fo himself typically lost interest in a play once it was no longer being staged.