I've worked you out: you really do have this acting mania, so you're acting mad but in fact you're saner than I am.
The Maniac is in fact saner than most; his madness is only a theatrical device. It is ironic that the Maniac is labeled "mad" when he is the character most dedicated to revealing the truth. Even the Journalist admits that her primary motivation is to write a good article, whereas the Maniac has no motive beyond the pursuit of truth. It is also ironic, of course, that in order to uncover what really happened, he has to lie and impersonate others. For this reason it may be the world around him that is truly mad.
No, don't throw me out, Inspector. I love it here with you, among policemen. I feel safe.
The Maniac's statement is bitterly ironic, since the anarchist was anything but safe among policemen. For audience members unfamiliar with the story, it foreshadows later events in which we learn that the police were almost certainly responsible for the anarchist's death. This wry, dangerous line highlights Fo's sharp comedy, used as a tool against corruption.
SUPERINTENDENT: Those bastards in the government. First they ask you to help - 'Ferment a little subversion, chip in with a bit of repression, go on, spread a sense of gathering disorder...'
INSPECTOR: '...then sit back and wait for calls for a state clampdown!'
The policemen place the blame for their actions on the government, arguing that they were told to spread a sense of disorder so that the public will demand a firm response and even support a totalitarian state in order to stop the violence. In so doing they voice the "strategy of tension" used by the Italian state at the time of the play's premiere. While Fo satirizes the police and was no friend of Calabresi (the model for the Inspector), with this quote he suggests that despite their shortcomings, the police were in a sense pawns of a larger and more sinister force.
...it's not baloney, it's just the usual traps and scams that we in the judiciary use occasionally to remind the police how barbaric and of course illegal those methods are.
The Inspector and the Superintendent justify their methods of interrogating the anarchist by explaining that they used "a perfectly standard procedure, as practised in every police force, to draw a confession out of the suspect" (24). These methods included engaging in a form of "psychological warfare" in which they invented information that could have caused enough mental anguish to push the anarchist to commit suicide. Rather than merely questioning the morality of such methods, the Maniac demonstrates their effects by using them on the Inspector and the Superintendent. After pointing out the holes in their arguments, he tells them: "Okay, you're probably feeling a little bit depressed right now. So what better time to add that there is damning proof of gross negligence on your part, that you're both dead in the water, and that in an attempt to make the rest of the police look good the Home Office are going to crucify you." (29) He then encourages the Superintendent and the Inspector to jump out the window, which they both admit they seriously considered doing. The Maniac admits to his deception in the quote above, which parallels the Inspector's own justification for using such methods and, in so doing, highlights how corrupt those methods really are.
SUPERINTENDENT: I'm delighted to reveal that we have, yes, lots of undercover agents, pretty much everywhere.
JOURNALIST: Now I know you're bluffing, Superintendent.
SUPERINTENDENT: Not at all. In tonight's audience, for example. We have a few of our people in. Do you want to see?
He claps his hands. Voices are heard from various points in the auditorium.
VOICES: Superintendent!/ Over here, sir!/ Yessir?
The Maniaclaughs and turns to the audience.
MANIAC: Don't be alarmed, they're drama students. The real undercover ones are trained to sit quietly.
This quote expands on the theme of fear and submission, insinuating that police infiltrators could be anywhere - even at this play. It also demonstrates one of the methods Fo uses to encourage audience members to avoid getting drawn too much into the storyline and instead to think critically about the issues raised.
By having the Superintendent and the Maniac speak directly to the audience, Fo eliminates the invisible "fourth wall" between the actors and the audience. The Maniac's reference to drama students goes one step further, explicitly reminding the audience that they are watching a play.
OK. So let's take a look behind that façade. What do we find? Out of the ten members of the [anarchist's] group, two of them were your own people, two informers, or rather, spies and provocateurs. One was a Rome fascist, well-known to everyone except the aforementioned pathetic group of anarchists, and the other was one of your own officers, disguised as an anarchist.
The Journalist brings up the practice of infiltration, one of the methods through which the police and the government create a climate of fear. In pretending to act for the left, the infiltrators foment uncertainty through acts of violence. This chaos fractures the radicals by muddying the motives and deeds of the political groups. The police hoped to win the public's support for a strong state, trading democratic principles for the security that a totalitarian government could bring.
JOURNALIST: You say you don't know anything... So you'll be unaware that of the 173 bomb attacks to date (Reads from document) 102 have been proved to be the work of fascists? And fascist or parallel organisations were strongly implicated in half of the remaining seventy-one cases.
SUPERINTENDENT: Those figures may be correct, yes... Any comments, Inspector?
INSPECTOR: I'd have to check.
JOURNALIST: Good, and while you're at it check how many of those attacks were made to look like the work of far-left groups.
INSPECTOR: Well, almost all of them, obviously.
Here the Journalist summarizes the "strategy of tension" alluded to earlier by the Inspector and the Superintendent. By committing terrorist acts and blaming them on the far left, fascists hoped to create public demand for a strong government capable of cracking down on the violence. Fo presented these facts to counter the false information commonly spread by the media.
...the scandal would have served its purpose. People say they want real justice... so we fob them off with a slightly less unjust system of justice. Workers howl that they're being flayed like donkeys... so we arrange for the flaying to be a little less severe and slash their howling entitlement, but the exploitation goes on. The workforce would rather not have fatal accidents in the factory... so we make it a teeny bit safer and increase compensation payments to widows. They'd like to see class divisions eliminated... so we do our best to bring the classes marginally closer or, preferably, just make it seem that way.
They want a revolution... and we give them reforms. We're drowning them in reforms. Or promises of reforms, because let's face it, they're not actually going to get anything.
This quote reflects Fo's own views on revolution versus reform, a hotly debated topic at the time the play was written. Through the Maniac, Fo argues that reform does very little besides calming the populace down and keeping them under control. Scandals, he says, encourage people to clamor for change, but the small changes that do occur do more to increase the standing of those in power than to actually improve the situation. Fo believed that revolution, and with it a complete overthrow of existing institutions, is the way to create real positive change.
Tensions massaged away through the miracle of catharsis, and you journalists are the over-indulged chief masseuses.
Fo avoided catharsis, in which spectators purge themselves of emotions such as anger or fear through the act of watching a play and letting their emotions flow through them. Here, he implies that people experience catharsis when reading the news as well. News of scandals rile them up, but then the tensions fade as their negative emotions pass. Fo's aim was the opposite of catharsis; he wanted people to engage in debate, challenge ideas, and consider new points of view.
They've never tried to cover up these scandals. Which is great! So the public can really vent their outrage and disgust: 'What is this government thinking of!?' 'Arsehole generals!' 'Murderers!' So they get cross, then possibly even angry, but then the bubble bursts. It's like a burp. Then the meal is over.
This quote expands on Fo's ideas of reform versus revolution and the detriments of catharsis. Scandals let people express their anger, but once expressed, this anger dissipates. Paradoxically, exposing scandals thus serves to maintain the status quo, possibly bringing about a few minor reforms that satisfy the public's desire for a government response while avoiding true revolutionary change.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist essays are academic essays for citation. These papers were written primarily by students and provide critical analysis of the play Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo.