by Dario Fo
A long time ago, those in power resolved their intolerance of ‘comedians’ by banishing them from the country. Today, actors and theatre companies have trouble finding public spaces, theatres and audiences - everything because of the crisis.
Therefore, rulers no longer worry about controlling those who express themselves with irony and sarcasm, since there are no longer places for the actors to perform or spectators to perform for.
In contrast, during the Renaissance, those in power had to struggle to keep comedians, who enjoyed a wide public, at bay.
It’s commonly known that the greatest exodus of comedians happened during the century of the Counter-Reformation, which upheld the dismantling of all theatre spaces, especially in Rome, where their existence outraged the Holy City.
In 1697, under harassing demands from the most reactionary part of the bourgeoisie and the leading clergy, Pope Innocent XII ordered the elimination of the Tordinona Theatre, whose stage, according to the moralists, was accountable for the greatest number of obscene performances.
At the time of the Counter-Reformation, Cardinal Carlo Borromeo, serving in the north of Italy, committed himself to the redemption of the ‘children of Milan’, establishing a clear distinction between art - the highest form of spiritual education, and theatre - the lowest expression of profanity and vanity. In a letter addressed to his collaborators, which I quote by heart, he stated more or less as follows:
While eradicating the evil weed, we had done our utmost to burn texts containing infamous speeches, to eradicate them from human memory, and at the same time prosecute those who spread such texts in print. But even as we sleep, the Devil works with renewed trickery. How far more penetrating to the soul than what the eyes can see! How far more devastating to the minds of boys and young girls is the spoken word, with appropriate voice and gesture, than a dead word in a book. It is therefore as critical for us to rid our cities of performers as we would do with unwanted souls.
Therefore, the only way out of this crisis is to hope that a great hunt will be organized against us, especially against the young people who want to learn the art of theatre: a new Diaspora of comedians, who, from such an imposition, will undoubtedly reap unimaginable benefits from a new kind of performance.
Translated by Mirko Grewing (Milan) and Douglas Howe (New York)