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  • Comic Drama in the Low Countries, c. 1450–1560: A Critical Anthology ed. by Ben Parsons and Bas Jongenelen
  • Andrew Fleck
Comic Drama in the Low Countries, c. 1450–1560: A Critical Anthology, ed. and trans. Ben Parsons and Bas Jongenelen (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2012) ix + 297 pp.

A rich and varied dramatic tradition existed in the late medieval and early Renaissance Low Countries. This public theatrical tradition is closely aligned, but [End Page 248] not coterminous, with a humanist tradition of civic “chambers of rhetoric,” or the rederijkerskamers, found in many of the municipalities of the region. Some scholarly attention has been paid to the serious or tragic Dutch drama of this era, especially since the social, religious, and political turmoil of the Reformation and the Dutch wars of independence provide a natural entry into thinking about those theatrical pieces. But as Ben Parsons and Bas Jongenelen argue, the comic drama of this period also repays scholarly attention, especially given the historicist turn of the last few decades of scholarship. Many historicist scholars have had no access to this drama, however, since they do not read Dutch and most of this drama remains untranslated. Parsons and Jongenelen have thus done the scholarly community a great service in selecting ten fascinating pieces of theatrical comedy and translating them from Dutch into accessible modern English. This critical anthology of Comic Drama in the Low Countries, c. 1450–1560 provides a useful window into the Renaissance theatrical tradition. We can now hope that others will take a look.

The editors have selected ten pieces of Dutch comic drama of two main types. First, they have chosen five dramatic monologues, probably delivered by the zot, or “fool,” employed by most Dutch civic rhetorical societies. These monologues are not part of larger, coherent dramatic pieces, but instead would have been delivered as humorous orations, perhaps as part of the public civic competition among the chambers of rhetoric, or perhaps as part of the chambers’ own banquets and festivities. They can be quite lengthy, often approaching three hundred lines. Second, Parsons and Jongenelen have chosen five farces, pieces that require multiple actors and give a sense of the comic tastes in the Renaissance Low Countries. In each case, the editors have printed the original Dutch and the modern English translation on facing pages. The translations are mostly accurate and accessible, though some ambiguity in the Dutch may have carried over into the English. For instance, in Esbatement van den schuyfman (“The Farce of the Beggar”), the frustrated beggar shouts at a deaf crone, “Her een huijsbacken broot!” The translators render this as “Give her home-baked bread,” though it might more accurately be translated, “Hear! A home-baked bread,” given the two beggars’ humorous playfulness about the woman’s difficulty in hearing them. The dramatic texts are sparingly edited, with no interpolated stage directions. Such an intervention might have made the text even more useful for classroom purposes, as students may not be adept at imagining the action implicit in some speeches. Parsons and Jongenelen provide ample annotations at the bottom of the English page, glossing the texts’ extensive references to classical or humanist sources and commonplaces as well as references to geography and contemporary events. Very helpfully, the editors preface each piece with a lengthy headnote, in which they introduce the piece and place it in context, often with reference to similar genres and themes. These prefatory materials also help to place the texts in dialogue with recent Dutch and English criticism and demonstrate the editors’ easy familiarity with recent scholarly trends.

The editors begin their anthology with a substantial critical introduction that develops the understudied tradition of Dutch comic drama. In an effort to situate their intervention, they extend the more extensive scholarship devoted to the rederijkerskamers’ serious output into the comic realm. The chambers of rhetoric [End Page 249] organized competitive theatrical festivals and some of this comic drama participates in those competitions. Such contests were a source of civic pride and the prizes for comic success could be just as meaningful as those for tragedy. Like the serious drama of the time, the comedies written by these Dutch...


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