“Oh, blissful birds, who are free and light, who live without weights, with no burdens
flatten you down, nor power to enslave you!”
Francis the Holy jester is a portrait of the saint of Assisi, which uses episodes from his lifeoften unknown or overlooked, drawn from authentic texts and from ancient folk tales of the Umbrian countryside. A whole range of characters from 13thCentury Italy are brought to life before us: Popes and Cardinals, Dukes and Duchesses, soldiers on the battlefield, traders in the marketplace, and St Francis himself.
Fo’s depiction of Francis as a jester wasn’t meant to diminish his life, but to convey how revered he was to the commoners of the time — and how reviled he was by those in power, who feared jesters because of their ability to rally those with no power. Francis used to say about himself: “I am the jester of God”.
Dario Fo offers four episodes from St. Francis life. One of these references an actual event, when St. Francis spoke to over 5,000 people in the main square in Bologna in August 1222. In his address, he used his whole being to express himself and communicate his message. The address was so powerful it caused warring factions to embrace lasting peace for the first time in many years.
The central story shows Francis who meets the Pope to obtain the approval for his Rule, then preaches to pigs and birds, and finally manages to reach human beings.
In the final part, Francis is ill and fading, and chooses to die in the Porziuncola, the little church in ruins he so loved.
Fo’s original text “Lu Santo Jullàre Françesco” (1999) mixes northern Italian dialect words and neologisms. The author wrote this text after years of research on documents written in old central Italian dialects regarding Saint Francis’ life.
“Francis the Holy Jester” is an entirely unique and living pièce of theatre which has the power to reach all of us, theatre-lover or no, educated or non-educated, Christian or non-Christian. It is of interest to historians, theologians, students and teachers of drama, those with a particular interest in the work of Dario Fo or with a general interest in Italian culture and literature, and to anyone who enjoys a good story lovingly crafted and told with insight, vivacity and humour.
“Lu Santo Jullare Francesco” was translated into English for the first time in 2009 by Mario Pirovano and was published as “Francis the Holy Jester” by Beautiful Books in London.
In December 2017 the editor Opus Book in New York published “Holy Jester! The Saint Francis Fables”, with all the original stories that were missed in the first translation, and many paintings by Dario Fo.