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St. Denis in Antwerp: Hagiographica in a Protestant Play B. A. M. Ramakers In the comparative study of medieval drama, the Dutch plays of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries—the era of the Rhetoricians —have scarcely attracted any attention. For example, The Saint Play in Medieval Europe does not have a chapter on Dutch examples of this genre1 although several apostle plays appear in the rich heritage of the late medieval Dutch drama texts. The best known of these apostle plays is the Spel van Sinnen van dWerck der Apostelen, written by the Antwerp playv/right and poet Willem van Haecht (c. 1530-1612).2 Van Haecht, a factor or principal poet of the chamber of rhetoric De Violieren, became known for his Lutheran convictions, while dWerck der Apostelen, performed in 1563 and 1564, is a trilogy of plays which dramatizes Acts 16-28. The first of these three plays contains the episode in Athens (Acts 17) in which Paul enters into a discussion with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, and Dionysius the Areopagite is converted. A striking fact is that in this particular episode Van Haecht, contrary to his usual practice, fails to keep witiiin the limits of the biblical narrative, for he makes both dramatic and textual additions. It appears that the scenes about the events in Athens in Van Haecht's play can be more easily understood and interpreted if they are compared with parallel scenes in the French plays of the Mystère des Actes des Apôtres and plays on the life of St. Denis, who was identified with Dionysius the Areopagite in medieval tradition. Some of these plays dramatize the episode in Athens.3 The Dutch and French dramas are an obvious subject for a comparative study since a close kinship existed between Dutch and French dramatic cultures during the late Middle Ages. There were contacts between Northern French 104 B. A.M. Ramakers105 and Flemish chambers of rhetoric in which the factors must have played an important role.4 By comparing the Dutch and the French plays we also are able better to understand the method of working of Van Haecht, who places the non-biblical material in the service of his Protestant message. Van Haccht's play involves a close imitation of the biblical text, for he seldom steps outside the scope of the narration of the events given in Acts; his dialogues, for example, are derived mainly from the Bible. St. Paul and others frequently quote from the Epistles. The author's Protestant convictions become clear, however, very quickly when the theology of the play is examined. Van Haecht, following Luther whose introduction to Acts stresses the parallel between the mission among the Gentiles and the preaching of the Gospel in his own time, goes to great lengths to present the historical narrative as an exemplum for the audience. After all, the Gentiles were to be considered the testators of European Christianity.5 The dramatic genre offers the author opportunities to realize his didactic purposes. Although according to current genre classification systems Van Haecht's play should be called a history play, we ought not to forget that the interpretative qualities of the spel van sinne are added to it. Some scholars consider the spel van sinne or sinnespel to be the Dutch equivalent of the morality play.6 Many history plays, including the one under discussion, are specified in their titles as spel van sinne. This indicates that what we have here is not a hybrid form, a fusion of the two main genres of history play and morality play, but an example of a more or less separate class of plays. The dramatization of the historical events which forms the basis of the play is surrounded by an allegorical framework within which the events on the primary level of acting can be interpreted. In dWerck der Apostelen, the historical events are preceded by a prologue in which appear two allegorical characters who establish the interpretation of the spectacle, and die play ends with a refrain (five stanzas of nine lines, each ending on a three-line stock or refrein) which recapitulates the themes announced in die prologue. The play...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 104-118
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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