Dissident clowning : Dario Fo and the politics of Commedia Dell'Arte

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Martin, Paul
Issue Date
BA in English Literature and Drama
Dublin Business School
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The purpose of this Final Year Project is to demonstrate the politically dissident potential latent in commedia dell' arte and to describe how this potential was tapped in the twentieth century with particular reference to Dario Fo's post-1968 theatre. The research does not claim that all instances of commedia have been subversive but rather that it is a form that lends itself to subversive messages. In the first chapter commedia is defined and analysed in a way that attempts to understand the possibilities of dissidence inherent in the form. This chapter relies heavily on scenarios from Flaminio Scala's collection. In the second chapter a connection is made with medieval carnival in order to apply to commedia dell'arte Bakhtin's theory of the carnival and of the grotesque as oppositional as put forward in Rabelais and His World. The third chapter links many of the features of commedia, particularly the alienating effects of audience interaction and distancing of actor from character, to Brecht's epic theatre. It is suggested that commedia lends itself to an aesthetic such as Brecht's, which emphasises its own artificiality and devalues catharsis. The final chapter looks to Dario Fo as an example of a theatre that adopts commedia in a way that brings out its carnivalesque and Brechtian aspects for specific political purposes. This involves a close reading of three of Fo's texts; Mistero Buffo, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, and Trumpets and Raspberries. Given the non-textual nature of commedia, an appendix is supplied which attempts to give a flavour of the visual aspect of the form.