Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Congratulations to my Honors Seminar Students

Congratulations to my Honors Seminar students; all of you earned honors for the class! 

Readers of this blog who are interested in seeing some of the students' projects can see the website where they posted their work, although the final versions and integrative papers are not due until Monday at 5:00 pm.

Thanks to my honors students for a fantastic semester! We certainly did become fellow reception history travelers  I will definitely mention (and thank) you and our class in the preface of this book.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Antonia Pulci's Prodigal Son Play (part 4)

To resume the analysis of the play:

After the elder son leaves the stage (see the last entry), the prodigal son returns home, “exhausted, naked, quite abandoned, poor.” When he reaches his father, he begs for mercy, says that he has repented and that he loves his father, and asks to be kept on as a servant. The father welcomes him back not as a servant but as a beloved son:

Ah, you are welcome back, beloved son;
You have enflamed my heart entirely with
Great joy, you know, for in suspicion, woe
And fear I’ve always been, son, since you left;
Let God be thanked with simple gratitude,
Since to safe harbor you’ve again returned.
I wish to host a solemn, worthy feast,
And clothe you in rich vestments once again.

At this point, another elaboration of the parable appears: The father cautions the younger son that he has to behave himself from now on (cf. the “Go and sin no more” Jesus tells the adulterous woman in John 8:11):

O my beloved son, I pardon you
The injury you’ve done to me in the past.
Your being pardoned is a blessed state,
Be sure; see that no more into such sin
You fall. You see I have been merciful to you,
And I, since I have freely pardoned you,
Wish to make it manifest to God,
Because I cherish you so tenderly.
It is only now, through delayed exposition, that the audience hears an elaboration on the sins of the prodigal: He wasted his inheritance on “women, taverns, banquets, games of chance, horses, falcons, on rich garments new.” His seven companions who drained him of his money were world-renowned for their wickedness; they were his constant companions leading him into every type of sin until his money ran out. Destitute, the son hired himself out as a servant to a cruel master, who forced him to eat acorns with the pigs during a great famine in order to survive (the play thus assumes that that the prodigal, unlike in the parable, actually ate the food the pigs ate and that the food was acorns). It was then, the son told his father, that he came to his senses and decided to beg mercy of his father and to be received back as a servant. The son realizes that he had “done you, father, such a heinous wrong” that he did not “deserve to find such pardon.”
The father instructs his servants to arrange a “splendid banquet” and to invite the family’s relatives and friends. The guests rejoice in the return of the beloved prodigal—once again an aspect not found in the Lukan parable but which reflects the theme of the other “Lost” parables of Luke 15 (the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin) about rejoicing with friends and neighbors when what was lost is found.

Next up: The elder son returns to find his brother’s return being celebrated.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Antonia Pulci's Prodigal Son play (part 3)

After leaving home with his inheritance, the prodigal arrives at the town square and encounters seven “boon companions” who say they will accompany him wherever he goes, promise to love him, and guarantee that he will always have his “every pleasure.” The key transition in this part of the play is from the emphasis on the son’s comfortable life at home with a loving family to the fact that the son wants to experience “every pleasure.” The audience now discovers that the prodigal’s new companions are the seven deadly sins—pride, avarice, envy, wrath, sloth, gluttony, and lust—and the characters who represent those sins each get to introduce themselves and their “circumstances” to the prodigal and the audience.

“Pride” is the leader of the seven men, but he allows each one to introduce himself. Avarice, for example, says:

My name is Avarice, and I can think
Of nothing but increasing what I own;
I value neither friendship nor my kin,
As long as I can gather many goods.
This is my goodness, this my every joy;
To prosper more, I’d even hurt myself;
I never have enough for future need;
In gathering goods, I disregard my life.

It is clear that the prodigal has already succumbed, to a certain extent, to many of these seven mortal sins. Ironically, he also is prophetically warned about his forthcoming downfall not only by his father, brother, and the servant who counted out his ducats, but also by one of his new “boon companions,” Gluttony:

I know how to make famine out of wealth,
Know how to turn great riches into nought,
And of great poverty I am the cause—
Now my condition you have understood.

Obviously, the prodigal does not yet truly understand, although he soon will.

The incorporation of the seven deadly sins in the play is paralleled in many texts of this era that connect the Prodigal Son parable to the seven deadly sins (e.g., Chaucer’s The Parsons Tale). 

The younger son leaves the stage with the seven deadly sins after they each give a speech, so at this point Pulci’s play does not dwell on the prodigal’s debauchery—the audience does not see it directly. Instead the play transitions to a dialogue between the father and the elder son, in which they declare their love and devotion for each other, and the elder son promises to stay obedient to his father.

Next up: The younger son returns home.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Update on the book: Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

Progress on the book screeched to a halt during spring break a few weeks ago and remains stopped, more or less. The end of the spring semester is always the busiest time of year for students, faculty, and college life overall. I will start again on the book (as well as Pierce Institute matters, which are year-round, and some other writing projects) in full force after I finish grading finals.

Before spring break, I started working on Emily Dickinson's use of the parables in her poetry and letters. That was a daunting task for me, because I know very little about poetry, other than biblical poetry. As a result, I read a significant amount of her poetry and used numerous secondary resources to help me understand it better (I just counted; I have 29 books from or about Dickinson checked out from the library, and I worked through them all--a bit of an overkill, perhaps). Needless to say, I learned a lot.

Over the past few weeks, though, I have carved out small spaces of time to work on the book. Last Friday night and Saturday during the day, for example, I tried to complete (finally!) the section of the book on Dickinson. I finished it on Saturday evening, and the section currently stands at 2415 words (I need to cut at least 400 words and probably more). 

This section on Dickinson was the 48th section I have written for the book (almost all the sections are rough first drafts and all sections are way too long, so much work remains on the manuscript--a caveat added here for the benefit of my beloved editor).

I started my research on Dickinson by looking at her use of the parables in her poetry. It is there--especially in the 40th Fascicle--but, more importantly,  Dickinson's poetry itself is parabolic in many ways, such as in comparison to how parables are said to work in Mark 4:11-12. 

I will also write more on this later, but Dickinson's poetry, like the parables, can be indirect, polyvalent, and circuitous (cf. Dorian 1996: 107-109). 

As one of Dickinson's more famous poems says:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

Compare Eugene Peterson's book on the parables, Tell it Slant, who notes a similar thing.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Antonia Pulci's The Prodigal Son play (part 2)

An important innovation in the narrative of the Prodigal Son parable in Pulci’s play comes immediately after the prologue: The prodigal son, before he leaves home, gambles at cards and loses a large amount of money, which immediately highlights his sinfulness and irresponsibility. It is this loss at cards that spurs the prodigal to ask his father for his inheritance. The prodigal’s self-centered focus is solely on himself and his happiness (all quotes are from Pulci 2010: 308-61):

I don’t think that beneath the moon before
Was ever found with luck like mine a man
Who of a thousand bets could not win one.
“Unfortunate” I surely can be called—
I am not paid up yet—I want to go
And ask my father for my inheritance.

Pulci believed that asceticism helped lead to a virtuous life, so she wants the audience to reject the prodigal’s early view that money brings happiness. Ironically, even after saying that he could not win one bet out of a thousand, he declares that he wants “to go away and try [his] luck” using his “great inheritance” to travel to seek earthly pleasures: people “with money travel without fear,” he says, and the world is theirs for the taking. The prodigal does not yet realize that his luck—or his ability to make wise decisions—will not improve.
Another major elaboration in Pulci’s play is that both the prodigal’s father and elder brother beg him to stay after he asks for his inheritance. His father sorrowfully exclaims:

You’ve set a grievous sorrow in my heart.
Don't let me hear you say such things again.
. . .
Consider staying here with me, sweet son,
Because near you I wish to end my life.

The father also asks his “dear son” to consider just how good his current life at home is:

You know how comfortably I’ve brought you up,
You’ve never tasted any hardship, and
You’re used to being well provided for.
Now through the world you’ll go in great distress;
Poor wretch, don't think to err in such a way,
Ah, don't let anger overcome you so.

The son continues to insist that he wants his inheritance, and the father repeatedly—in four separate speeches—states his “great love” for his son, speaks of the “great pain” the son’s leaving will cause him, and begs him to yield to his father’s “great prayers” to stay home:

Oh, don’t make me so sorrowful, my son,
Take pity on me who has brought you up;
You know that I have loved you even more
Than my own self—forever loved you thus,
Beloved son, the comfort of my heart.
Oh do not think to leave me in such woe,
Son; overcome such great hard-heartedness,
For my old age show some compassion, please.

The father’s heart-felt pleas are to no avail. The prodigal takes ten thousand ducats from his father, and, after also rejecting the pleas of his brother to stay home, he departs for a foreign land.

One quote sums up his state of mind: “Who has cash in this world has what he wants.”

In the next post, I will analyze the prodigal's arrival at the town square and his interactions with the "seven boon companions" (i.e., the seven deadly sins) that he immediately encounters there.

What are They saying about the Parables? (Chapter 4 , part 6): Evaluation of recent contributions from Ruben Zimmermann

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