Friday, May 1, 2015

Antonia Pulci's Prodigal Son play (part 5 of 5)

Pulci's play contains the same twist on the reaction of the elder brother as does the stained glass window in Chartres Cathedral. The open-ended question as to what the elder brother ultimately decides is answered by the play:

When the elder son returns home to find the celebration over his younger brother, he cannot understand why his father had prepared a feast for “this immoral wretch” who had gambled all his worldly goods away, while the father had never celebrated the goodness of the older brother. Now the elder brother feels like a “wretch” and ironically states that he—similar to his brother earlier—did not intend to come home again:

O wretched me! They never even killed
Some measly lamb—not once—to honor me!
For this scapegrace, my brother, him who is
The very pinnacle of vice and every son,
They’ve killed the calf to fatten up the feast.
With sorrow, by my faith, my heart will break;
Such a party I will not attend,
Nor do I mean to come back home again

The older son’s reaction, though, is more in sorrow than anger, and note that, unlike the parable, he does still call him “my brother” instead of “this son of yours.” His father responds by not only declaring his love for his elder son but equating the younger son’s return with “rising from the dead,” and he explicitly equates his brother’s physical return with his spiritual salvation:

Belov├Ęd son, obedient, reverent,
Do not desire to say again such things,
And from your mind all envy strip away,
For love of me, of, do come home again,
For you obeyed me ever, in the past,
And in the future still so shall you do.
Join with me now in happy celebration
Of your brother’s return to us, of his salvation.

The older brother is convinced by his father’s words—unlike the prodigal who rejected four entreaties by his father before leaving home, the elder son only needs two speeches to be convinced—and, unmentioned in the parable, goes to the celebration, embraces his brother, and welcomes him back, calling him his “dear” and “sweet” brother:

Dear brother, you are welcome back again!
I surely never thought to see you more,
And to the Son of Mary I give thanks!
When I recall to mind, sweet brother, how
You had departed without company,
By night and day I used to sigh for you
But now may highest God by all be praised
Because to this safe harbor you’ve returned.

The younger brother shows a little bit of concern about his older brother’s compassion for him:

If you but knew in what great grief and woe
I’ve been since I departed, certainly,
How much compassion you would feel for me.

But he reciprocates by also calling his brother “sweet brother,” and he praises their father’s “infinite goodness” in forgiving his “weighty sin.”

The play concludes with angel returning to dismiss the audience and to remind them of the lesson they should have learned from the play: to give thanks to God who is always ready to pardon them of their sins. No sinner is so wicked that Jesus will not forgive those sins and welcome the sinner into heaven, if the sinner repents.

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