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Confraternities and Carnival: The Context of Lorenzo de' Medici's Rappresentazione di SS. Giovanni e Paolo Konrad Eisenbichler In late 1490 and early 1491 Lorenzo de' Medici composed a religious play, the Rappresentazione di SS. Giovanni e Paolo, that is chronologically his last major literary work.1 In the body of Lorenzo's writings this play therefore would seem to take on a particular significance since it might be considered Lorenzo's literary testament and might thus also represent his final development as a poet and writer. The drama is a sacra rappresentazione, a stage work of a type that re-enacts saints' lives and martyrdoms and other events from sacred history. The genre found its highest point of development in fifteenth-century Florence, especially through the effort and example of playwrights such as Feo Belcari, Antonia Pulci, and Castellan de' Castellani, all more or less closely linked to the ruling Medici family. Unlike the "learned" theater of the following century, the sacra rappresentazione was written in octaves, and it ignored the Aristotelian unities of time, space, and action. Further, it freely mixed natural and supernatural characters, comic and tragic elements. Lorenzo's Rappresentazione di SS. Giovanni e Paolo is unusually fractured in its presentation of narrative even when considered among other examples of the genre. The plot is only tangentially concerned with the life and martyrdom of the title characters, John and Paul, the two Roman officers beheaded in 362 by the Emperor Julian the Apostate. The play is indeed a somewhat loose compilation of stories that treat the miraculous healing (through the intercession of St. Agnes) of Costanza, daughter of the Emperor Constantine the Great, her conversion to Christianity, her bethrothal to the Roman general Gallicano 128 Konrad Eisenbichler129 (not an historical figure); Gallicano's military campaign in Dacia, his conversion to Christianity, his return to Rome and retirement to a life of Christian devotion; the Emperor Constantine 's abdication (also not an historical event) in favor of his three sons, who very rapidly lose power; the rise of the new Emperor, Julian the Apostate, his persecution of Christians, his execution of John and Paul, and then finally, through the divine intervention of St. Basil and the Blessed Virgin Mary, Julian's death at the hands of St. Mercury.2 There are at least four different plots, dramatizing the stories of Costanza, Gallicano, Constantine, and Julian, while the title characters—beginning the play as Costanza's servants and concluding it as martyrs— provide a frame, as it were, that encloses these events. The multiple-plot structure is not the only unusual aspect of Lorenzo's play. The theme of the play also seems somewhat unconventional, for, rather than setting forth matters of conversion and salvation, Lorenzo appears to have been more interested in pursuing questions of political power and kingship in his text. Some critics have quite logically suggested that Lorenzo, ruler of Florence, was using this dramatic work to present aspects of his own political philosophy on stage.3 Literary historians thus often tend to set the drama aside as political propaganda and, relegating the play to a minor position among Lorenzo's writings , prefer to focus, for example, on such matters as Lorenzo's more secular writings and his contribution to Petrarchism. They are interested in the development of Italian language and stylistics , or they examine Lorenzo's non-religious works for evidence of his elegant, courtly manner and attitudes, his humanist learning , or his neoplatonic interests. In such analyses the play inevitably seems to lack significance and is regarded as an anomaly , a thing of small consequence. For instance, Paolo Toschi, using the diminutive, has called it an operetta, a "little work."4 In contrast, Sisto Dalla Palma, who was one of the first to give serious attention to the play, has argued that the drama is firmly grounded in Lorenzo's literary and personal career—a career that was marked by an awareness of (and was directed toward) an "audience."5 Dalla Palma found the work perfectly consistent with Lorenzo's other writings since, like his other writings, its aim is "public recital."6 Indeed, Natalino Sapegno had already spoken of Lorenzo's poetry...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 128-139
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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