Dario Fo

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Dario Fo
Dario Fo portrait.jpg
Born March 24 1926(1926-03-24)
Leggiuno-Sangiano, Italy
Died October 13 2016 (aged 90)
Milan, Italy
Occupation Playwright
Nationality Italian
Genres Drama
Literary movement Small Theatres
Notable award(s) Nobel Prize in Literature
Influences Bertholt Brecht, Antonio Gramsci

Dario Fo (March 24, 1926 - October 13, 2016) was an Italian satirist, playwright, theater director, actor, and composer. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997. His dramatic work employs comedic methods of the ancient Italian commedia dell'arte, a theatrical style popular with the proletarian classes. He owns and operates a theater company with his wife and leading actress Franca Rame.

Fo was associated with liberal and socialist causes. His most famous, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist, is based on events involving a real person, Giuseppe Pinelli, who fell—or was thrown—from the fourth floor window of a Milan police station in 1969. He was accused of bombing a bank (the Piazza Fontana bombing). The accusation is widely seen as part of the Italian Far Right's strategy of tension.

Fo was outraged by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and withdrew his plays from production in the Eastern bloc.


Early years

Fo was born in Leggiuno-Sangiano, in the province of Varese, near the eastern shore of Lago Maggiore. His father Felice was a station master for the Italian state railway, and the family frequently moved when Felice was transferred to new postings. Felice was also an amateur actor and a socialist. Fo learned storytelling from his maternal grandfather and Lombard fishers and glassblowers.

In 1940, Fo moved to Milan to study architecture at the Brera Academy, but World War II intervened. His family was active in anti-fascist resistance and reputedly he helped his father to smuggle refugees and Allied soldiers to Switzerland. Near the end of the war, Fo was conscripted into the army of the Republic of Salò, but he escaped and managed to hide for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Fo continued his architectural studies in Milan. Initially he commuted from Lago Maggiore, but soon his family moved to Milan. There Fo became involved in the piccoli teatri (small theatres) movement, in which he began to present improvised monologues. In 1950, he began to work for Franco Parenti's theater company, and gradually abandoned his work as an assistant architect.

Relationship with Franca Rame

In 1951, Fo met Franca Rame, daughter of a theatrical family, when they were working in the production of revue Sette giorni a Milano. After a slow start, they became engaged. In the same year he was invited to perform a radio play Cocorico in RAI, Italian national radio. He made 18 satirical monologues where he varied biblical tales to make them political satire. Scandalized authorities canceled the show.

In 1953, he wrote and directed a satirical play Il dito nell'occhio. After initial success both government and church authorities censored his work and, although the public liked the show, the theater company had trouble finding theaters in which to perform it.

Franca Rame and Dario Fo were married on June 24, 1954. Fo worked in the Piccolo Teatro in Milan but his satires suffered more censure although they remained popular.

In 1955 Fo and Rame worked in movie production in Rome. Fo became a screenwriter and worked for many productions, including those of the young Italian film producer, Dino De Laurentiis. Their son Jacopo was born on March 31. Rame worked in Teatro Stabile of Bolzano. In 1956, Fo and Rame were together in the Carlo Lizzani's film Lo svitato. Other movies followed.

In 1959, Fo and Rame returned to Milan and founded the Compagnia Dario Fo-Franca Rame (Dario Fo-Franca Rame Theater Company). Fo wrote scripts, acted, directed, and designed costumes and stage paraphernalia. Rame took care of the administrative jobs. The company debuted in Piccolo Teatro and then left for the first of its annual tours all over Italy.

1960s and success

In 1960, they gained national recognition with Gli arcangeli non giocano a flipper ("Archangels Don't Play Pinball") in Milan's Teatro Odeon. Other successes followed. In 1961, Fo's plays began to be staged in Sweden and Poland.

In 1962, Fo wrote and directed a game show, Canzonissima, for RAI. Fo used the show to depict lives of commoners and it became a success. However, an episode about a journalist who was killed by Mafia annoyed politicians and Fo and Franca Rame received death threats and were placed under police protection. They left the show when RAI made more cuts to the program. The Italian Actors' Union told its members to refuse to become their replacements. Fo and Rame were effectively banned from RAI for the next 15 years. They continued their work in Teatro Odeon.

In 1962, Fo's play about Christopher Columbus, Isabella, Three Tall Ships, and a Con Man, was subject to violent attacks by fascist groups in Rome. On this occasion it was the Italian Communist Party which provided security for Fo and Rame. This event is recounted by Fo in the prologue of Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas.

La Signora è da buttare (1967) made topical comments on the Vietnam War, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The U.S. government saw it as disrespectful to President Johnson, and Fo was denied a U.S. visa for years afterward under the McCarran-Walter Act.

Fo gained international fame with "Archangels Don't Play Pinball" when it was performed in Zagreb in Yugoslavia.

In 1968, Fo and Rame founded the Associazione Nuova Scena theater collective with movable stages. It toured in Italy. In Milan, it turned an abandoned factory into a theater. It became a home of another new company, Il Capannone di Via Colletta. The collective had links to the Italian Communist Party, but Fo also openly criticized their methods and policies in his plays. Soon the communist press disliked him as much as the Catholics, and many performances were canceled. Fo had never been a member but the conflict caused Rame to resign her membership in the party.

Dario Fo withdrew all rights to perform his plays in Czechoslovakia in protest after Warsaw Pact forces crushed the Prague Spring in 1968, and refused to accept cuts demanded by Soviet censors. Productions of his plays in the Eastern Bloc ended.

In 1969, Fo presented for the first time, Mistero Buffo ("Comic Mystery"), a play of monologues based on a mix of medieval plays and topical issues. It was popular and had 5000 performances—some even in sports arenas. Mistero Buffo influenced a lot of young actors and authors: It can be considered the formative moment of what Italians used to call teatro di narrazione, a kind of theater in which there are no characters playing a dramatic role, similar to popular storytelling. The most famous Italian storytellers are Marco Paolini, Laura Curino, Ascanio Celestini, Davide Enia, and Andrea Cosentino.


In 1970, Fo and Rame left Nuova Scena due to political differences. They began their third theater group, Collettivo Teatrale La Commune. It produced plays based on improvisation about contemporary issues with lots of revisions. Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970) criticized abuse of forces of law and order; he wrote it after a terrorist attack on the Banca Nazionale dell'Agricoltura in Milan. Fedayin (1971) was about a volatile situation in Palestine and performers included actual PLO members. From 1971 to 1985, the group donated part of its income to support strikes of Italian labor organizations.

In 1973, the company moved to Rossini Cinema in Milan. When Fo criticized police in one of his plays, police raids and censorship increased. On March 8, a fascist group, commissioned by high ranking officials in Milan's Carabinieri, the Italian federal police,[1] kidnapped Franca Rame, torturing and raping her. Rame returned to the stage after two months with new anti-fascist monologues.

Later in that year, the company occupied an abandoned market building in Central Milan and dubbed it the Palazzina Liberty. They opened in September with Guerra di popolo in Cile, a play about a rebellion against the Chilean military government under Auguste Pinochet. It had been written because of the murder of Salvador Allende. Fo was arrested when he tried to prevent police from stopping the play. The 1974 play, Can't Pay? Won't Pay! was a farce about the self-reduction movement where women (and men) would take what they wanted from markets, only paying what they could afford. In 1975, Fo wrote Fanfani rapito in support of a referendum for the legalization of abortion. In the same year they visited China. Fo was also nominated for the Nobel prize for the first time.

In 1976, a new RAI director invited Fo to do a new program, Il teatro di Dario (Dario's Theatre). However, when Mistero Buffo's second version was presented in the TV in 1977, the Vatican described it as "blasphemous" and Italian right-wingers complained. Regardless, Franca Rame received an IDI prize for the best TV actress.

In 1978, Fo made the third version of Mistero Buffo. He also rewrote and directed La storia di un soldato (Story of a Soldier), based on Igor Stravinsky's opera. It was a success. Later he adapted operas from Rossini. He also wrote a play about the murder of Aldo Moro, but it has not been performed publicly.

1980s, 1990s, and the Nobel Prize

In 1980, Fo and family founded a retreat, the Libera Università di Alcatraz, in the hills near Gubbio and Perugia.

In 1981, Cambridge's American Repertory Theater invited Fo to perform in the Italian Theatre Festival in New York. The United States Department of State initially refused to grant Fo a visa but agreed to issue a six-day one in 1984, after various U.S. writers protested against the ruling. In 1985, they received another one and performed at Harvard University, Repertory Theater, the Yale Repertory Theater, Washington's Kennedy Center, Baltimore's Theatre of Nations and New York's Joyce Theatre.

Despite the acclaim, there were still troubles. In 1983 Italian censors rated Coppia Aperta forbidden to anyone under 18. During a performance in Argentina, a saboteur threw a tear gas grenade and the further performances were disturbed by youths who threw stones on the windows. Catholics picketed the performance with large religious pictures.

In 1989, he wrote Lettera dalla Cina in protest of the Tiananmen Massacre.

Did you know?
The 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Italian playwright Dario Fo

On July 17, 1995, Fo suffered a stroke and lost most of his sight; Rame subsequently took his place in productions for a period of time. Fo nearly recovered within a year.

In October 1997 Fo was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming both the first Italian to be selected for the award since Eugenio Montale in 1975 and the first Italian playwright to be chosen since Luigi Pirandello in 1934.[2] The Swedish Academy, in its citation, praised him as a writer "who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden."[3]

Final years

Throughout the early twenty-first century until his death in 2016, Fo remained an active participant and campaigner on various political, social, and cultural issues.[4]

In 2001, Fo became Satrap of the Collège de ‘Pataphysique.

In 2006, Dario Fo made a failed attempt to run for mayor of Milan, the most economically important city of Italy, finishing second in the primary election held by the center-left The Union. Fo, who obtained over 20 percent of votes, was supported by the Communist Refoundation Party. Fo's wife Franca Rame was elected as senator for the Italy of Values party in the Italian general election held on April 9 and 10, 2006.

In 2007, he was ranked Joint Seventh with Stephen Hawking in Telegraph's list of 100 greatest living geniuses.[5]

On October 13, 2016 Fo died at the age of 90 due to a serious respiratory disease.


In 1981, Fo received a Sonning Prize from Copenhagen University, in 1985 a Premio Eduardo Award, in 1986, the Obie Award in New York, and in 1987 Agro Dolce Prize. In 1997, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

He also received an honorary doctorate from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium).

In his works Dario Fo has criticized Catholic policy on abortion, political murders, organized crime, political corruption, and the Middle East crisis. His plays often depend on improvisation, commedia dell'arte style. His plays—especially Mistero Buffo—have been translated into 30 languages and when they are performed outside Italy, they are often modified to reflect local political and other issues.

Selected works

Note: These are the English names of the works

  • Archangels Don't Play Pinball (1959)
  • He Had Two Pistols with White and Black Eyes (1960)
  • He Who Steals a Foot is Lucky in Love (1961)
  • Isabella, Three Tall Ships, and a Con Man(1961)
  • Mistero Buffo (Comic Mystery, 1969)
  • The Worker Knows 300 Words, the Boss 1000, That's Why He's the Boss (1969)
  • Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970)
  • Fedayin (1971)
  • We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! (Non Si Paga! Non Si Paga!) (aka Can't Pay? Won't Pay!) (1974)
  • All House, Bed, and Church (1977)
  • The Tale of a Tiger (1978)
  • Trumpets and Raspberries (1981)
  • The Open Couple (1983)
  • Elizabeth: Almost by Chance a Woman (1984)
  • One was Nude and One wore Tails (1985)
  • Abducting Diana (1986)—Adapted to English in 1996 by Stephen Stenning
  • The Tricks of the Trade (Manuale minimo dell'attore) [1987] (1991)
  • The Zeedonk and the Shoe (1988)
  • The Pope and the Witch (1989)
  • A Woman Alone (1991)
  • Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas (1992)
  • The Devil with Boobs (1997)
  • The First Miracle of the Infant Jesus
  • Orgasmo Adulto Escapes from the Zoo
  • About Face
  • The Two-Headed Anomaly (2003)
  • Francis The Holy Jester (2009)


  1. Joseph Farrell, Review article on biography of Rame and Fo. Socialist Review. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
  2. Tony Mitchell, Dario Fo: People's Court Jester (London: Methuen, 1999, ISBN 978-0413529107).
  3. The Nobel Prize in Literature 1997 Nobelprize, October 7, 2010. Retrieved November 2, 2016.
  4. Dan Jakopovich, Fo is still the enemy of power and corruption The Tribune, March 16, 2011. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
  5. The Telegraph, Top 100 living geniuses. October 28, 2007. Retrieved November 1, 2016.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Behan, Tom. Dario Fo. Revolutionary Theater. London: Pluto Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0745313573
  • D'Angeli, Concetta, and Simone Soriani (eds.). Coppia d'arte—Dario Fo e Franca Rame. Pisa: Edizioni Plus, 2006. ISSN 0026-7937
  • Farrell, Joseph, and Antonio Scuderi (eds.). Dario Fo: Stage, Text and Tradition. Southern Illinois University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0809323357
  • Farrell, Joseph. Dario Fo & Franca Rame. Harlequins of the Revolution. Methuen 2001. ISBN 9978-0413709103
  • Mitchell, Tony. Dario Fo. People's Court Jester. London: Methuen, 1999. ISBN 978-0413529107
  • Pizza, Marisa. Al lavoro con Dario Fo e Franca Rame. Roma: Bulzoni, 2006. ISBN 978-8878700796
  • Pizza, Marisa. La parola, il gesto, l'azione. Roma: Bulzoni, 1996. ISBN 978-8883190056
  • Puppa, Paolo. Il teatro di Dario Fo. Vnezia, Marsilio, 1978. OCLC 4462183
  • Scuderi, Antonio. Dario Fo and Popular Performance. Legas, 1998. ISBN 978-0921252801
  • Soriani, Simone. Dario Fo. Dalla Commedia al Monologo (1959-1969). Corazzano (PI), Titivillus, 2007. ISBN 978-8872181546
  • Valentini, Chiara. La storia di Dario Fo. Milano: Feltrinelli, 1997. ISBN 978-8807814754


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