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.

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