Il Prigioniero Synopsis

Zaragoza, in the 16th century.

In the prologue, The Mother arrives to visit her imprisoned son. She is worried about his safety because of a nightmare she has had in which the foreboding figure of King Phillip II appears and morphs into Death.

When she comes to meet him in prison, the Prisoner tells his Mother of the torture he has faced while incarcerated. However, his Jailer has instilled him with hope- he has referred to him as “brother”, which the Prisoner takes to mean he will be released soon. The Jailer, who appears sympathetic to the Prisoner’s plight, arrives. He tells him that Flanders is in revolt, and to have hope- someone is watching over him, and his freedom is nearing. This news further encourages the Prisoner. The Jailer leaves, but as he does so, he leaves the cell door open. The Prisoner notices, and with this final incentive of hope given by the Jailer, he slips out of his cell and escapes.

The Prisoner slinks through the long corridors of the prison. He sees a torturer, who he successfully manages to hide from, and two priests. The priests are too invested in conversation to notice him. Finally, the Prisoner feels he is getting close to the fresh air outside, and when he hears a bell he associates it with the Roeland bell- the bell in the tallest belfry in Flanders. He opens the prison’s door and escapes into what he hopes is freedom.

In the beautiful starlit gardens beyond the prison at night, the Prisoner is so joyful over his seemingly-successful escape that he hugs what he takes for a cedar tree. However, when he grabs it, he finds himself in the arms of the Grand Inquisitor, who asks him: “”Brother… On the eve of your salvation… why ever would you leave us?” The Prisoner realizes that the Jailer was the Grand Inquisitor all along, and that his final and most atrocious torture is the false promise of hope the Inquisitor gave him. The Grand Inquisitor takes the Prisoner by the hand and leads him to the stake, and the Prisoner can only ask- “Freedom?”

Written by Ursula Sturgeon

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