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Performers and Performance in the Earliest Serious Secular Plays in the Netherlands Willem M. H. Hummelen The literature of the Netherlands is as rich in sixteenthcentury manuscripts of plays and printed plays (approximately six hundred are extant) as it is poor in fifteenth-century play texts (approximately twenty). Of the latter group of texts about half are contained in the so-called Hulthem manuscript dating from 1405-10; these ten plays, however, may be assumed to have originated in the fourteenth century and hence are in fact the earliest vernacular plays that have come down to us in the Netherlands. However, the small number of extant early plays is compensated for by the high quality of the texts. Moreover, this group of ten plays occupies a special place in the dramatic literature of Western Europe, for along with l'Estoire de Griseldis (cl 395) it includes the earliest serious secular plays and, aside from Le Garçon et l'aveugle (cl 282), the oldest known farces in the vernacular. 1 In the present article I intend to show that this special position also includes the performance of the plays by masked professional actors on a stage with a tiring house that has at least two entrances to the front stage. The Hulthem manuscript contains an extensive and very heterogeneous collection of texts. It is thought to have served as the catalogue of a scriptorium from which the customer could choose his own collection of texts—texts that then were copied out for him. The ten fourteenth-century plays have come down to us in the form of five "scripts"—that is, five texts prepared for the production of one or more stage performances. WILLEM M. H. HUMMELEN, Emeritus Professor of Older Dutch Literature at the University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands, has published widely on Dutch drama and theater of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. 19 20Comparative Drama Each script consists of what, for lack of a better term, may be referred to as a primary play (between 625 and 1142 lines in length), followed by a sotternie (a short farce, between 111 and 245 lines). Four of the primary plays are described as abele spelen ("fine plays") in the titles of the scripts. Three of these "fine plays"—Esmoreit, Gloriant, and Lanseloet van Denemerken—concern events that take place in the circles of the nobility and hence may also be described as "knights' stories."2 In most cases in which the "fine plays" are mentioned, these three dramas are usually implied, and it is the scripts of these plays which I intend to discuss here. The contents of the plays under discussion may be summarized as follows: 1. Esmoreit. Esmoreit, the only child of the king of Sicily, is kidnapped at birth by Robbrecht, one of the king's nephews who is determined to replace the monarch as successor to the throne. In Damascus the court magician reads in the stars that Esmoreit's birth implies great disaster for his lord, the king. The magician is sent to find and obtain Esmoreit, and, after having traveled to Sicily, he manages to purchase him from Robbrecht. In Damascus Princess Damiet, who raises Esmoreit as her brother at her father's command, knows only that he was found in the palace garden. Meanwhile, back in Sicily, Robbrecht blackens the queen's reputation so seriously that his uncle sends her to prison for many years. When Esmoreit has reached adulthood, he accidentally hears Damiet sighing about her love for him in spite of his obscure origin. However, he cannot requite her love until he has discovered the identity of his true ancestors. His quest will take him to Sicily where his mother recognizes him from her prison cell by the embroidered cloth in which he was wrapped as a baby. The queen is restored to honor, Esmoreit is reunited with Damiet who had followed him in disguise, and Robbrecht is exposed by the court magician who had accompanied Damiet on her journey. The play ends with the stage direction "Hier hand men Robbrecht" ("Robbrecht is hanged here"). This play is followed by the sotternie, Lippifn, which is a characteristic example of the farces...