Saturday, 19 May 2012

Dario Fo - The Birth of the Jongleur

Dario Fo.
A jongleur was an itinerant medieval entertainer proficient in juggling, acrobatics, music, and recitation so in other words a Showman.
In 1997 Dario Fo was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his book Mistero Buffo, Comic Mysteries. But it wasn't just a book, it was ancient stories Fo had collected and rewritten into one-person plays. In his performances he acted out all the roles in the tradition of a medieval jongleur who presents the underdog's disrespect for authority. The Nobel Prize press release describe their reason as giving him the award for "emulating the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden."

"He if anyone merits the epithet of jester in the true meaning of that word. With a blend of laughter and gravity he opens our eyes to abuses and injustices in society and also the wider historical perspective in which they can be placed. Fo is an extremely serious satirist with a multifaceted oeuvre. His independence and clear-sightedness have led him to take great risks, whose consequences he has been made to feel while at the same time experiencing enormous response from widely differing quarters."
Mixing the sacred and the burlesque, the episodes subvert accepted wisdom and challenge entrenched authority. Among the play’s twelve episodes the a key text is the Birth of a Jongeleur, an excerpt of this play on the Nobel's Committee's website. Her is the story in full, prefaced by some words about the text by Dario Fo himself.

Fresco from 1100 showing a
Jongleur in the role of drunkard.
"What does this piece relate? We see a jongleur, explaining how, before he became a jongleur, he was a peasant, and that it was Christ who changed him into a jongleur. How did it happen that Christ gave him this new profession? It was because he used to own land, but a landowner tried to take the land away from him. I say no more, because there's not really much that I can add. The piece speaks for itself. Don't worry if at first you don't understand some of what I say. The sense, the gestures and sounds inolved will help you. By my gestures and by the sounds of the piece, you will easily grasp the meaning of this."
The following piece is based on a comic mystery first written down in the thirteenth century.

(Translated by Ed Emery in 1983.)

Kind people, gather round and listen. The jongleur is here! I am the jongleur. I leap and pirouette, and make you laugh. I make fun of those in power, and I show you how puffed up and conceited are the big-shots who go around making wars in which we are the ones who get slaughtered. I reveal them forwhat they are. I pull out the plug, and... pssss... they deflate. Gather round, for now is the time and place that I begin to clown and teach you. I tumble, I sing and I joke! Look how my tongue whirls, almost like a knife. Remember that. But I have not always been... Well, I would like to tell you how it was that I came to be.

I was not born a jongleur; I didn't suddenly turn up as I am now, with a sudden gust from the skies and, hopla, there I was: 'Good day... Hello'. No! I am the result of a miracle! A miracle which was carried out on me. Do you believe me? This is how it came about! I was born a peasant. A peasant? Yes, a real countryman. I was happy, I was sad, I had no land. No! I worked as all of us work in these valleys, wherever I could. And one day I came by a mountain, a mountain all of rock. It was nobody's. I found that out. I asked people. 'No! Nobody wants this mountain!'
Well, I went up to its peak, and I scratched with my nails, and I saw that there was a little bit of earth there, and I saw that there was a little trickle of water coming down. So I began to scratch further. I went down to the riverbank, and I wore my fingers to the bone bringing earth up onto this mountain. And my children and my wife were there. My wife is sweet, sweet and fair, with two round breasts, and a gentle way of walking that reminds you of a heifer as she moves. Oh, she is beautiful! I love her, and it gives me pleasure to speak of her.
Anyway, I carried earth up in my own hands, and the grass grew so fast! Pfff... ! It grew of its own accord. You've no idea how beautiful it was! It was like gold dust! I would stick in my hoe, and pfff... a tree sprang forth. That earth was a miracle! A marvel! There were poplars, oaks and other trees everywhere. I sowed them when the moon was right; I knew what had to be done, and there, sweet, fine, handsome crops grew. There was chicory, thistles, beans, turnips, there was everything. For me, for us!
Oh, how happy I was! We used to dance, and then it would rain for days on end, and then the sun would blaze, and I would come, and go, and the moons were always right, and there was never too much wind, or too much mist. It was beautiful, beautiful! It was our land. This set of terrace was really beautiful. Every day I built another one. It was like the tower of Babel, beautiful, with all these terraces. It was paradise, paradise on earth! I swear it. And all the peasants used to pass by, saying:
'That's amazing, look what you've managed to bring forth out of this pile of rocks! How stupid that I never thought of that!'

And they were envious. One day, the lord of the whole valley passed by. He took a look and said:
'Where did this tower spring up from? Whose is this land?'
'It's mine,' I said. 'I made it myself, with these hands. It was nobody's.'
'Nobody's? That 'Nobody's' is a word that doesn't exist. It's mine!'
'No! It's not yours! I've even been to the lawyer, and he told me it was nobody's. I asked the priest, and he said it was nobody's. And I built it up, piece by piece.'
'It's mine, and you have to give it to me.'
'I cannot give it to you, sir. I cannot go and work for others.'
'I'll pay you for it;I'll give you money. Tell me how much you want.'
'No! No, I don't want money, because if you give me money, then I'll not be able to buy other land with the money that you give me, and I'll have to go an work for others again. No, I don't want to. I won't.'
'Give it to me.'
Then he laughed, and went away. The next day the priest came, and he told me:
'The land belongs to he Lord of the Valley. Be sensible, give it up. Don't play the fool. Beware, because he is a powerful, evil lord. Give up this land. In the name of God, be sensible!'
'No!' I told him. 'I won't.'
And I made a rude gesture at im with my hand. Then the lawyer arrived too. He was sweating, by heaven, when he came up the mountain to find me.
'Be sensible. There are laws... and you should know that you can't... that, for you...'
'No! No!'
And I made a rude gesture at him too, and he went away, swearing.
But the lord didn't give up. No! He began by coming on hunting expeditions, and he sent all the hares chasing over my land. With his horses and his friends, he galloped to and fro across my land, breaking down my hedges. Then one day, he set fire to all my land. It was summer; a drought. He set fire to the whole of my mountain, and burned everything, even my animals and my house. But I wouldn't leave! I waited, and that night it began to rain. After the rain, I began to clear up, and put the fence posts back in position, and replace stones, and bring up fresh earth, and water everything. I was determined, by heaven, that I wouldn't move from there! And I did not move!
But one day he arrived, along with all his soldiers, and he was laughing. We were in the fields, my children, my wife and I. We were working. He arrived. He got down from his horse. He undid his breeches. He came over to my wife, grabbed her, threw her to the ground, ripped off her skirt and... I tried to move, but the soldiers held me fast. And he leapt upon her, and took her as if she were a cow. And I and the children had to stand there, with our eyes bursting from our heads, watching... I moved forward, with a leap. I managed to free myself. I took a hoe, and I shouted:
'You bastards!'
'Stop,' my wife cried. 'Don't do it. That's all they want, that's exactly what they are waiting for. If you raise your stick, then they will kill you. Don't you understand? They want to kill you and take away your land. That's all they want. He is bond to defend himself. It's not worth taking your stand against him. You have no honour to defend. You're poor, you're a peasant, a country person, you cannot go thinking of honour and dignity. That is stuff for rich people, for lords and nobles They are entitled to get angry if people rape their wives and daughters. But you're not! Let itAnd I began to weep, weeping and looking all around. The children were weeping too. And the sodiers, with the lord of the valley, suddenly went off, laughing, happy and satisfied. We wept, how we wept! We could not even look each other in the eye. And when we went into the village, they began throwing rocks and stones at us. They shouted:
'Oh you ox, you who don't have the strength to defend your honour, because you have no honour. You are an animal. The lord has mounted your wife, and you stood there, wihout saying a word, for a handful of earth. You wretch!'
And when my wife went around the village:
'Whore, cow!' they shouted after her. And then they ran off. They would not even let her go intochurch. Nobody would let her! And the children couldn't go out in the village without everyone picking on them. And nobody would even look us in the eye. My wife ran off! I never saw her again; I don't know where she ended up. And my children wouldn't look at me. They fell ill, and wouldn't even cry. They died. I was left alone, alone, with this land. I didn't know what to do. One evening, I took a piece of rope, and threw it over a rafter. I put the noose around my neck, and said to myself:
'Right. Now I am going to end it all, now!'

I was just about to do it, just about to hang myself, when I felt a and on my shoulder. I turned round, and saw a fellow with big eyes and a pale face.
He says to me: 'Could you give me something to drink?'
'I ask you, in heaven's name, is this really the moment o come asking somebody for something to drink, when he's just about to hang himself?'
I look at him, and see that he too has the face of a poor wretch. Then I look further, and see that there are two mor men, and they too have faces full of suffering.
'Alright, I'll give you something to drink. And then I'll hang myself.'
So I go to get them something to drink, and I take a good look at them:
'Instead of something to drink, you people look as if you could do with something to eat! It's been days and days since I last cooked anything to eat... But anyway, if you want, there is food.'
I took a pan and put it on the fire to heat up some broad beans. I gave them some, one bowl apiece, and how they ate! I, personally, wasn't very hungry. 'I'll wait till they've finshed eating,' I thought, 'and then I'll hang myself.' Anyway, while they were eating, the one with the biggest eyes, who looked like a right poor devil, began to smile. He said:
'That's a terrible story, hat you're going to hang yourself. I know why you want to do it, though. You have lost everything, your wife, your children, and all you are left with is your land. Yes, I know how it is! But if I were you, I woldn't do it.'
And he carried on eating. How he ate! Then, in the end, he laid aside the utensils, and said:
'Do you know who I am?'
'No, but I've got an idea that you might be Jesus Christ.'
'Well done! You've guessed correctly. And this is St Peter, and that over there is St Mark.'
'Pleased to meet you! And what are you doing in these parts?'
'My friend, you've given me something to eat, and now I'm going to give you something to say.'
'Something to say? What is this 'something'?'
'You poor fellow! It's right that you have held onto your land; it is right that you don't want bosses over you; it is right that you have had the strength not to give in; it's right... I like you. You're a good man, a strong man. But you're missing something which is also right, and which you should have: here and here. (He points to his forehead and to his mouth) You shouldn't remain here stuck to your land. You should move around the country, and when people throw stones at you, you should tell them, and help them to understand, and deflate that great bladder of a landlord. You should deflate him with the sharpness of your tongue, and drain him of all his poison and his stinking bile. You must crush these nobles, these priests, and all those who surround them: notaries, lawyers, etc. Not only for your own good, for your own land, but also for those like yourself who don't have land, who have nothing, and whose only right is the right to suffer, and who have no dignity to boast of. Teach them to survive with their brains, not just with their hands!'
'But don't you understand? I am not able. I have a tongue which refuses to budge. I stumble over every word. I have no education, and my brain is weak and useless. How am I supposed to do he things you suggest, and go about speaking to other people?'
'Don't worry. You will now see a miracle.'
He took my head in his hands, and drew me to him. Then he said:

'I am Jesus Christ. I have come to give you the power of speech. And this tongue of yours will lash, and will slash like a sword, deflating inflated balloons all over the land. You will speak out against bosses, and crush them, so that others can understand and learn, so that others can laugh at them and make fun of them, because it is only with laughter that the bosses will be destroyed. When you laugh at the rulers, the ruler goes from being a mountain, to being a little molehill, and then a nothingness. Here, I shall give you a kiss, and that will enable you to speak.' He kissed me on the mouth. He kissed me for a long time. And suddenly I felt my tongue dart about inside my head, and my brain began to move, and my legs began to move with a mind of their own, and I went out in the streets of the village, and began to shout:

'Gather round, people! Gather round! hear ye! The jongleur is here! I am going to play a satire for you. I am going to joust with the lord of the land, for he is a great balloon, and I am going to burst him with the sharpness of my tongue. I shall tell you everything, how things come and go, and how it is not God who steals! It is those who steal and go unpunished... it is those who make big books of laws... They are the ones... And we must speak out, speak out. Listen, people – these rulers must be broken, they must be crushed...!

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