Dutch Theater and Drama

Wim Hüsken

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:
Dutch Theater and Drama

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
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  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology


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In the Low Countries, few liturgical drama texts have been preserved. Compared to the surrounding countries of France, Germany, and England, vernacular drama texts handed down in manuscript form started to emerge relatively late. From the 15th century, only one play collection survived (in the Van Hulthem manuscript), including four abele spelen (chivalric plays), six sotternien (farces), and a handful of other plays. By the end of the century, the famous play of Elckerlyc, the source for the English Everyman, appeared in print, a medium otherwise seldom used by authors of drama texts. The bulk of the play production in the Low Countries is, therefore, late medieval. Responsible for their coming into existence were the rhetoricians, members of chambers of rhetoric comparable to the French puys. Their share in Dutch and Flemish public life can hardly be overestimated. By the year 1620 their influence had started to dwindle, however, leading to the end of a tradition that originated in the 14th century. Still, even though the Renaissance slowly started to pervade other literary genres after the 1560s, dramatists and theater producers remained faithful to their traditional style. As a result, their activities will have to be scrutinized well into times normally no longer regarded as medieval. Because the majority of the texts they composed were copied out in manuscripts more or less representing (part of) their repertoire, it is in many cases difficult to tell when exactly the plays written down in these collections were actually composed. The most striking example of this is the large play collection of the Haarlem chamber of rhetoric, Trou moet blijcken, the copying of which started around 1600, though it includes many texts dating back to the start of the 16th century. A popular genre within Dutch and Flemish drama was the so-called spel van sinne, a play type comparable to the French moralité, featuring sinnekens, stock characters always acting in pairs and comparable to the Vice in the English morality plays. In addition, farces were very much preferred. Biblical plays seem to have found less support among the many companies in charge of performing drama, but archival sources suggest the opposite. Studying the archives in order to re-create theatrical life in the towns and villages of the Low Countries, similar to the Records of Early English Drama project, has not yet been carried out systematically, but partial results are worth reviewing. Many plays—an estimate of the entire field from the period between 1400 and 1620 amounts to approximately seven hundred—have not yet been made public in scholarly annotated editions. In many cases researchers therefore still have to rely on manuscripts and contemporary editions. Staging plays has received special attention within the field of Dutch and Flemish medieval drama studies, the more so because graphic representations of stages have survived in contemporary editions and paintings.

Article.  12489 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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