Accidental Death of an Anarchist
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"Accidental Death of an Anarchist" Summary

By Dario Fo

plays | 176 pages | Published in NaN

In its first two years of production, Dario Fo's controversial farce, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, was seen by over half a million people. It has since been performed all over the world and is widely recognised as a classic of modern drama. A sharp and hilarious satire on political corruption, it concerns the case of an anarchist railway worker who, in 1969, 'fell' to his death from a police headquarters window.This version of the play was premiered in London in 2003.Commentary and notes by Joseph Farrell.Content: Dario Fo Plot Commentary Further reading Accidental death of an anarchist NotesQuestions for further study.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A farcical play that satirizes police corruption and political manipulation in the aftermath of a suspicious death.


"Dario Fo's "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" is a satirical play that delves into the real-life events surrounding the mysterious death of an Italian railway worker and anarchist, Giuseppe Pinelli. The play unfolds with a blend of farce, black comedy, and political commentary, serving as a scathing critique of the corruption and abuse of power within Italian society during the 1970s. Through its witty and thought-provoking narrative, the play offers a unique insight into the dynamics of authority and the manipulation of truth.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview and Setting

The play is set in Milan, Italy, during the 1970s, a period marked by social and political turmoil. The narrative revolves around the investigation of the supposed accidental death of an anarchist who fell from a police headquarters window. The play unfolds in a single location, the police station, where the bulk of the action takes place.

Main Characters

The play features a small cast of characters, each playing a pivotal role in driving the narrative forward:

The ManiacA cunning and eccentric character who impersonates various roles to manipulate the police and uncover the truth.
Inspector BertozzoA police officer tasked with investigating the death of the anarchist. He becomes entangled in the Maniac's schemes.
SuperintendentThe head of the police station, characterized by his authoritarian demeanor and attempts to control the unfolding chaos.
JournalistA persistent and sharp-witted journalist who adds an additional layer of scrutiny to the police's handling of the case.

Summary of Different Story Points Over Chapters

Act 1

The play opens with the Maniac, a con artist and compulsive liar, being brought in for interrogation at the police station. Posing as a judge, the Maniac manipulates the officers, particularly Inspector Bertozzo, into believing that he is an esteemed judge. He crafts a convoluted story about a corrupt judge, leading the officers to reveal sensitive information about the anarchist's case.

Act 2

As the play progresses, the Maniac assumes multiple disguises, including a forensic expert and a psychiatrist, in a bid to exploit the police officers' gullibility and uncover the truth behind the anarchist's death. His antics create chaos and confusion within the police station, shedding light on the incompetence and corruption prevalent in the institution.

Act 3

The climax of the play unfolds as the Maniac's ruse reaches its peak, causing the police officers to unravel under the weight of their own lies and misconduct. The truth behind the anarchist's death is gradually unearthed, exposing the police's complicity in covering up a heinous crime. The play culminates in a powerful and thought-provoking resolution that challenges the audience's perceptions of truth and justice.

Main Events

The play is punctuated by several key events that drive the narrative and emphasize the overarching themes of deception, corruption, and the abuse of power:

  1. The Maniac's Impersonations: The Maniac's ability to seamlessly assume false identities serves as a catalyst for exposing the police's incompetence and dishonesty, highlighting the farcical nature of the investigation.
  2. Uncovering the Truth: Through his subterfuge, the Maniac gradually unravels the tangled web of lies surrounding the anarchist's death, ultimately revealing the police's culpability in orchestrating a cover-up.
  3. Confrontation and Resolution: The play reaches its crescendo as the Maniac's relentless pursuit of truth leads to a climactic confrontation with the police, challenging the audience to confront the pervasive corruption and moral decay within the societal structures.

Themes and Insights

Corruption and Abuse of Power

The play brazenly confronts the prevalent corruption and abuse of power within the Italian police force, shedding light on the manipulation of truth and the erosion of justice in pursuit of self-preservation and control.

Truth and Deception

Fo intricately weaves a narrative that underscores the deceptive nature of truth, blurring the lines between reality and artifice. The play forces the audience to question the authenticity of information and the reliability of those entrusted with upholding justice.

Social and Political Satire

Through its biting satire, the play serves as a scathing commentary on the socio-political landscape of 1970s Italy, critiquing the systemic flaws and the farcical nature of authority and governance.

Reader's Takeaway

"Dario Fo's "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" offers a compelling and provocative examination of truth, corruption, and the abuse of power. Through its masterful blend of farce and political commentary, the play captivates audiences while incisively dissecting the societal malaises that continue to resonate today. Fo's work serves as a stark reminder of the enduring relevance of holding authority accountable and interrogating the veracity of established narratives.


In conclusion, "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" stands as a timeless work that continues to resonate with audiences due to its searing critique of corruption, truth, and the pervasive abuse of power. Dario Fo's masterful storytelling and razor-sharp wit ensure that the play remains a poignant and thought-provoking exploration of the complexities of justice and the enduring struggle for truth in the face of institutional deceit.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist FAQ

  1. What is the book 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist' about?

    The book 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist' is a farce based on real events. It satirizes the events surrounding the 1969 death of Italian anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli, who fell - or was thrown - from the fourth floor window of a Milan police station.

  2. Who is the author of 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist'?

    The book 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist' is written by Dario Fo, an Italian playwright and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1997.

  3. What themes are explored in the book?

    The book explores themes of corruption, abuse of power, and the nature of truth and justice. It uses humor and satire to critique the political and social climate of the time.

  4. Is the book based on true events?

    Yes, 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist' is based on the real-life events surrounding the death of Giuseppe Pinelli. However, it takes creative liberties and uses satire to comment on the events.

  5. What is the writing style of the book?

    The book is written in a comedic and satirical style, using farce and absurdity to convey its message. It employs humor and wit to address serious social and political issues.