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The Boundaries of the Rhetoricians' Stage W. M. H. Hummelen From the end of the fifteenth century to the beginning of the seventeenth century the stage in the Netherlands was dominated by the rhetoricians (rederijkers) in every aspect. Guilds of these amateur poets and actors ("chambers") were found in every city and in most of the villages of Holland, Zeeland, Flanders, and Brabant. Under the direction of a self-elected board and with the help of a more or less professional poet (the factor), the chambers contributed stage performances and tableaux vivants to every festivity of the Church and the city, and these included contests between chambers of different cities and villages.1 In the Netherlands the drama of the rhetoricians is considered to be medieval. But for a few exceptions, it shows no signs of influence from classical drama, school drama, or the Renaissance drama from Italy, Spain, or England. However, with respect to content and structure it clearly involves some further development beyond the drama of the previous period. Classical stories and tales from collections of novellas are dramatized, and, as in France in the form of morality plays, political and religious issues are addressed. The dramatic technique becomes very refined —a point to which I will return below—and already at the end of the fifteenth century staging no longer depends on multiple mansions but involves the use of stage façades—i.e., different mansions are combined into one façade with a tiring house behind it (Dutch speelhuys=p\ayhouse).2 The rhetoricians' drama is thus clearly to be distinguished from the spiritual plays of the fifteenth century and is best described as drama of the late Middle Ages. Very fortunately, the activities of the rhetoricians are reflected in Dutch pictorial art. From the regions mentioned above, there are about thirty different illustrations of stages and plays performed in the late medieval style of the rhetoricians. This is a more substantial body of evidence than is available for all the 235 236Comparative Drama neighboring countries taken together. It is not therefore unusual that a Dutch picture is used to illustrate the drama in one of these other countries. Unfortunately, mistakes frequently are made in selecting these pictures: the genre of the play being performed is misunderstood,3 or a generalization is made on the basis of a too limited number of illustrations.4 Errors of this kind, of course, may primarily be attributed to the fact that certain sources of information about the actors and plays are accessible only to those familiar with the Dutch language, but also the conviction that these pictures are of "photographic faithfulness"5 seems misplaced. The pictures as works of art retain their own set of norms, and these are quite definitely different from the norms which pertain to photographs. The above reasons establish a need for a general framework within which the interpreting of pictures of stage performances may take place. To accomplish this it will be necessary to view data on the activities of the rhetoricians and on the totality of the pictures. As a special contribution to this general framework I will look at the peculiar emphasis given to the boundaries of the stage in these pictures. On stages as shown in Dutch painting between approximately 1560 and 16206 two kinds of boundaries may be distinguished: those between the stage and the surrounding space, and those within the stage itself. It is remarkable that in more than half of the illustrations of stage productions from this period that are known today, people are shown that are exactly on those boundaries , are crossing the boundaries, or are about to cross them. This applies, to mention a well-known example, to three of the seven persons depicted on the stage of the farce Playerwater1 (fig. 1) at a country fair—a depiction presumably made after Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Instead of attempting to deal with the different kinds of boundaries, I will examine the different groups of persons that are involved in crossing them: (1) actors actually acting; (2) nonacting persons, subdivided into (a) those coming from among the audience and (b) those belonging to the performing group; and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 235-251
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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