The First Half of the Seventeenth Century/Chapter 2
introductory—mediæval drama—problem connected therewith—the moralities, histories, and farces of the chambers—renaissance secular drama—the eglantine—coster and rodenburg—brederoo—hooft—"quarrel of the players"—coster's academy—the "amsterdamsche kamer" and new theatre—vondel—development of his drama—individual tragedies—characterisation and criticism—failure of the romantic and classical drama—jan vos's 'aran en titus'—later plays.
The history of the drama in Holland in the seventeenth century is the history of an effort which was Introductory. not fully successful. The same elements were present as in England and France. The Morality gave way to the tragi-comedy or dramatised story-play, romantic and historical. The classical drama, represented especially by Seneca, Plautus, and Terence, was studied, admired, and imitated by a band of young men eager to elevate and refine the literature of their country. But the elements never succeeded in combining to produce a living and great drama, on either the English romantic or the French classical model. Vondel and Hooft put some of their best poetry into dramatic form, but neither of them ever clearly grasped the fact that the essence of drama is neither the incident of the popular plays nor the sentiment, style, and morality of the scholarly, but the vivid presentation of the agitations and conflicts of the human soul, revealed in a motived and naturally evolved action. The history of the experiment is, however, not without interest and significance, and in comedy some humorous and realistic work was produced not unworthy of the countrymen of Jan Steen and Adriaen van Ostade.
The oldest Mediæval plays in Dutch which have survived are of a purely secular character, four Mediæval Plays. serious, so-called abele Spelen, and six farces—kluchten or sotternien—belonging to the later fourteenth century. Of the serious plays, three—Esmoreit, Gloriant, Lanseloet van Denemarken—are romances dramatised in simple and naïve manner, but by no means ineffectively. In Esmoreit a prince is sold by his ambitious cousin to the Turks, but returns at the right moment to rescue his mother, who has been imprisoned for years by her husband's jealousy, and marries the daughter of the Turkish king. Lanseloet tells of a lady, Sandrijn, wronged by her princely lover at his mother's instance, of her marriage, and her first lover's repentance and death. Parts of the story are narrated, not dramatised, and the whole is closed with a moral. Gloriant, the longest, is a story of a Christian Duke of Brunswick's love for a Saracen maiden, the daughter of a bitter foe of the Duke's family. They are well-constructed little plays—none is longer than 1142 lines—and evidently written for a stage with fixed stations and its own conventions. Winter ende Somer is more of a simple "débat" or "estrif," a dispute between Summer and Winter as to their respective merits, in which some boers and a beggar take part, and which is closed by Venus. The "sotternien," or farces, which followed the "abele spelen"—
"Nu swight en maeckt een ghestille
Dit voorspel is ghedaen
Men sal u eene sotternie spelen gaan"—
were dramatised short stories of humorous and coarse incidents in the life of the people.
These purely secular plays are older than any religious plays which have survived in Dutch. The Their Source (?). Maastrichtsche Paaschspel, written in the dialect of Limburg, dates possibly from the second quarter of the fourteenth century, but the oldest extant Flemish Mystery, De eerste Bliscap van Marie, was performed at Brussels in 1444. Still later is the Spel van den Heiligen Sacrament vander Nyeuwervaert, performed at Breda about 1500. The relation in which the secular and religious plays stand to each other in time led Mone in 1838 to claim for the drama of the Netherlands a unique secular origin. It was descended, he argued, not from the religious drama but from the dialogues recited by one or more "sprekers," of whose performances we hear in old account-books. The question has been much debated, the descent from the religious plays under French influence being urged by Wybrands and Jonckbloet, the native and independent by Moltzer and J. H. Gallée. It cannot be discussed at length in a chapter whose subject is only in passing the Mediæval drama. It is not possible in any case to get beyond conjecture, as the plays form an isolated group. How far the "twee-spraken" or dialogues (occasionally even "drie-spraken") referred to in account books were dramatic in character and were represented by more than one "zegger," is matter solely of conjecture. Wybrands and Jonckbloet consider that the statements of Maerlant, and other evidence, point to their having been recited by one person representing the different speakers. On the other hand, the descent of the "abele spelen" from the mysteries under French influence is equally conjectural, or more so, for the only French secular serious play which is older than the fifteenth century—the Griseldis—stands, as Creizenach points out, in obviously close relationship to the Virgin Mary Miracle-plays, which the Dutch plays as obviously do not, being entirely secular in tone. As Professor Moltzer says, if the Dutch "abele spelen" are descended from the French, there must have existed in France before the fifteenth century a highly developed secular drama alongside the ecclesiastical, of which these plays give us our only conception. The pieces of Adam de la Halle—described by Mr Gregory Smith in an earlier volume—stand quite by themselves, and were probably composed for private performance.
Mysteries and Miracle-plays were produced in abundance in the fifteenth century; but in the sixteenthMoralities. the favourite plays of the chambers of rhetoric were the Moralities or Zinnespelen, the seriousness of which they relieved with Esbattementen or farces. The chambers which issued the challenge for a Landjuweel propounded the subject of the plays to be performed—e.g., "What is the greatest mystery or grace provided by God for the salvation of man?" "What is Man's greatest consolation in death?" "What best prompts Man to the cultivation of art?" The Zinnespelen lent themselves readily to Catholic and anti-Catholic propagandism. At a great Landjuweel held at Ghent in 1539 the Protestant doctrines of Justification, and the superiority of the Bible and St Augustine to Thomas Aquinas and Scotus, were set forth in the boldest terms. The tone of the Ghent plays was serious, but in Den boom der schrifturen, performed at Middelburg in the same year, Romanism was bitterly satirised. Philip the Second naturally forbade this sort of thing, and the song became in North Holland a more potent instrument than the play.
Besides the pure Morality, the "rederijkers" produced plays of the kind which in the Netherlands,Transition
Plays. as in England, formed a bridge from the abstract Morality to the more concrete history or tragi-comedy—plays which used as a vehicle for moral instruction a story taken from the Bible, from national history, or from classical history and mythology, and brought on the stage together concrete persons and abstractions. Spel van Sinne van Charon, Spel van Jason, Spel van den Koninck van Frankrike, Abraham's Utganck, are examples of plays not unlike Bale's Kyng Johan and Preston's Cambyses. It is perhaps interesting to remember that Bale was for several years an exile in the Low Countries. One well-known and impressive Morality was composed in Holland, Den Spiegel der Salicheit van Elkerlyck (our Everyman), which was possibly the work of a South-Netherland cleric and mystical writer, Pieter Dorland (1454-1507). Many of the clergy were members of the Chambers, some of them holding the post of "facteur" or poet to the Chamber. The literary and dramatic worth of Elkerlyck, however, is far above the average of the usual "Rederijkers'" poetry. The Zinnespelen and Scriptural Moralities are in general, from a dramatic and literary point of view, wearisome and worthless performances. There is more life in the farces such as Cornelis Everaert (1509-1533) produced in abundance. Van den Visscher, van Stout en Onbescaemt, 't Spel van den hoogen Wint en den zoeten Reyn, are significant titles, and recall the names of Heywood's Merry Interludes.
Both Moralities and Scripture-plays continued to be composed and performed by the chambers in the Secularisation. seventeenth century. In the southern and Catholic Low Countries especially they were popular, and in the Brabantian Chamber at Amsterdam, whose members came from the southern provinces, they continued in fashion when the "Oude Kamer" or "Eglantine" was experimenting in secular romantic and classical plays. Vondel's earliest work was a "rederijker's" Biblical drama, and his religious tragedies thus stand in a direct line of descent from the Mediæval Mysteries, however much their final form may have been influenced by Garnier, Seneca, Grotius, and Sophocles. But though the Zinnespelen lingered, the movement in the opening seventeenth century was towards the secular drama, and this movement, as elsewhere, manifested itself in two distinct but often quaintly blended results. The one was the so-called tragi-comedies (treur-bly-einde-spelen), the dramatised novelle or romances which are found everywhere at the Renaissance, full of incident, regardless of the "unities," and mingling serious with farcical scenes. Even in these the influence of the classical drama is traceable in the occasionally Senecan character of the story, in the division into acts, and the oddly tagged-on choruses. The other result is the more regular imitation of Seneca, Plautus, and Terence. The plays of the first kind in Holland show unmistakably the influence of Lope de Vega and also of the English drama; those of the latter equally clearly that of Garnier and the Pléiade.
The leaders in the dramatic activity of the Eglantine were Hooft—whose work from the first took aThe
Dramatists. classical direction—Dr Samuel Coster, Brederoo, and Theodore Kodcnburg. Coster (1579-1660?), a leading Spirit in the life of the chamber, was a mediocre dramatist and poet. His best work is found in his farces, the Boerenklucht van Teeuwijs de Boer en men Juffer van Grevelinckhuysen (1612) and Tysken van der Schilden (1613), coarse but vigorous and genial plays. His later and more serious plays, as Isabella and the would-be classical Itys (1615), Polyxena (1619), and Iphigenia (1617?), an attack upon the Calvinist clergy, are crude and melodramatic.
Rodenburg's numerous tragi-comedies abound in incident, and his characters—e.g., in Jaloersche Rodenburg
(1580?-1638). Studenten—are drawn with some sympathy, but his style is pedantic and affected. He had visited both Spain and England, and of his extant plays some are adaptations from Lope, one a translation of Cyril Tourneur's Revenger's Tragedy. He might, like Hardy, have had historic interest if his work had led to important developments, but Rodenburg and Coster, with Hardy's fatal deficiency in style, have even less dramatic power.
Brederoo and Hooft alone wrote plays which deserve to be dignified with the name of literature. After hisBrederoo. first crude essays Hooft took for his models Italian pastoral drama and French Senecan tragedy. Brederoo followed in his earliest plays the more romantic and popular line of Rodenburg, of Hardy, and of the English dramatists, blending scenes from popular romances or novelle with humorous and realistic pictures of servants and peasants. But nothing is more characteristic of the difference between the English and the Dutch drama than the complete failure of the romantic part of Brederoo's plays and of those of his fellow-dramatists. His three first plays, Treurspel van Rodderick en Alphonsus (1611-16), Griane (1612), and Lucelle (1616), are dramatised Spanish romances or love-stories, but the serious scenes lack entirely that poetic and romantic spirit with which not only Shakespeare, but lesser men like Greene and Dekker, Middleton and Fletcher, invested their versions of Italian and Spanish novellas. The serious part of a Shakespearean comedy is, Hazlitt says, generally better than the comic. Be that as it may, the exact opposite is the case with Brederoo, whose dramatic reputation rests entirely upon the comic interludes in the above-mentioned plays, the three farces, Klucht van de Koe, Klucht van Symen sonder Soeticheyt, and Klucht van den Molenaer, which he wrote between 1612 and 1613, and his two more regular and elaborate comedies, 't Moortje (1615-17) and De Spaensche Brabander (1617-18).
The reason of Brederoo's failure to rise on the ethereal wings of romance is to be found doubtless in his own genius and that of his people, but perhaps Dutch Plays
not romantic. also in another circumstance which explains a good deal in the history of Dutch drama and poetry. Dutch literature is from the fourteenth century onward a bourgeois literature. The Dutch poets and dramatists never enjoyed the courtly audiences whose influence did so much for the English drama in the sixteenth century, and helped the French in the seventeenth century to throw off the barbarism of Hardy's plays and the pedantry of Garnier's. It is among the highest and lowest classes of society that art is able to develop least impeded by the restrictions of practical morality. That freedom Dutch literature obtained in farce and popular song, never completely in higher and more serious literature, which accordingly retained to the end something of the bourgeois and didactic tone it acquired with Maerlant.
The servants and peasants in Brederoo's comedies are drawn to the life. Coarse humour, racy description, Brederoo's
Comedy. proverbial wisdom, jest, and sarcasm flow from their lips in a rich stream of "Amsterdamsch" dialect. The three farces are also little masterpieces—the traditional themes of the "Sotternien" handled with the verve and range of expression of a man of genius. A peasant is tricked into selling his own cow by the thief who has "lifted" it the night before, and that for the sole benefit of the thief. The miller artfully cuckolds himself. The morality is on a level with that of the Miller's and the Reeve's tale, but so is the comic art. In the more elaborate comedies, which Brederoo, who was no scholar himself, wrote at the instance of his cultured and pedantic friends, the construction and character-drawing are weak, but there is the same wealth of language and the same power of vivid description. The best things in 't Moortje (1617), a not altogether successful attempt to adapt the Eunuchus of Terence to the conditions of life in Holland, are the long digressions, in one of which he describes, with a Rabelaisian extravagance of racy detail, a stroll through the markets of his native town; in another a skating party on the canals; while in a third an old servant details her recollections of life in a wealthy burgher's house. He was even happier in the picture of Amsterdam life which he gave in De Spaensche Brabander (1617), a dramatisation and adaptation of the picaresque romance Lazarillo de Tormes. The hero of Brederoo's play is a boastful Brabander, a bankrupt fugitive from Antwerp, living on the trustful "botte Hollanders" of Amsterdam. His servant is an adroit beggar whose wits bring in more than his master's boasts. The story is slight, and the connection between the scenes loose. It is a study of humours, not in the analytic, microscopic style of Jonson, but vivid and genial. The realism of the Spanish original was quite in the Dutch taste, and some of the scenes, as that in which two courtesans relate their history, has a realism unrelieved by poetry which is quite foreign to the Elizabethan drama, and hardly appears in our literature before Defoe. A comic dramatist such as Molière, a compeller of thoughtful laughter, Brederoo was not, nor had he any large measure of the creative genius and all-comprehending humour of Shakespeare; but he could paint with a masterly hand, and with some of Aristophanes', Rabelais', and Shakespeare's wealth of phrase, the life and conversation of the people.
The scholarly Hooft naturally shared the taste of his age for classical tragedy and comedy and ItalianHooft's Classical
Plays. pastoral. His earliest plays hardly count. Achilles en Polyxena and Theseus en Ariadne are "rederijkers'" plays, though the language is purer and more poetic, and the latter contains one lovely song—
"Ick schouw de werelt aen,
En nae gewoonte gaen
Sie ick vast alle dingen,
Sij sijn dan groot of cleen;
Maer ick helas! alleen
Blijf vol veranderingen."
Granida (1605)—a pastoral, the plot of which was apparently derived from the English Mucedorus, the spirit and language, especially of the charming opening scenes, from Tasso and Guarini—is the first artistic Dutch play, and its art is, characteristically, poetic rather than dramatic. The same is true of his Senecan historical tragedies, Geeraert van Velsen (1613) and Baeto (1617, pr. 1626). They both have a political interest,—Geeraert patriotic, the Baeto a noble and poetic plea for peace without and within, written a year before the execution of Oldenbarneveldt and the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War. The subject of the first, chosen partly from the association of the story with the Muider Slot, is the tale told by Melis Stoke, and in a fine old ballad, of the vengeance executed on Count Floris V. for his violation of the wife of Geeraert van Velsen, and its national consequences. The patriotic note is struck in the character of Gysbrecht van Amstel, who resists the proposal to call in English aid against the Count, and in the eloquent, although dramatically irrelevant, closing prophecy of the liberation of Holland, the rise of the House of Nassau, the daring of Dutch navigators, and the greatness of Amsterdam. The Baeto dramatises a mythical story of the origin of Batavia, and emphasises in the hero the "pietas," the courage, and the love of peace which Hooft would have to be the fundamental virtues of his people. This political motive lends his tragedies a warmth which is too often lacking to the Renaissance plays on classical subjects, but the interest and beauty appear in the poetry alone. Dramatically they have all the faults of their kind, but they contain fine descriptions, elevated speeches, and musical choruses. Hooft's master in the latter was Garnier. In Geeraert he adopts two or three of that poet's metres, and handles them with skill. In the Baeto he put some of his weightiest thought and sincerest feeling into delightful lyrical measures. There is a chorus on the return of spring which has some of the music of Mr Swinburne's "The hounds of spring are on winter's traces"; one on the blessings of peace which throbs with noble emotion; and the most moving thing in either of the plays is the antiphonal song of exile, chanted by bands of maidens:—
"O soete beecken! waer nevens in swang
Te gaen eendraghtig plagh onse sang
Hoogheffende 't doen
Der helden koen
In the Cluchtige Comedy van Warenar, dat is, Aulularia van Plautus nae's lants gelegentheid verduitscht (1616), which Hooft was stimulated to write by the success of Brederoo's 't Moortje, he showed that he knew the people and their speech as well almost as Brederoo himself, and had more constructive though less descriptive power, and less wealth of humorous phrase. Besides these longer plays, Hooft wrote Tafelspelen, and he adapted Aretino's lo Ipocrito as Schijnheyligh, not softening the realistic details.
The literary and dramatic reforms which Coster, Hooft, and Brederoo initiated in the Eglantine soon Dissensions in
the "Eglanitine." led, as such movements often do, to disagreements. The reasons were in part personal. Rodenburg's tragi-comedies, which he produced with something of the fertility of Hardy—twenty-two have survived—were regarded as barbarous by the admirers of the classical drama, while at the same time their popularity, and the vanity of Rodenburg, excited disgust. But there were other and less personal reasons. The growth of a more artistic drama necessitated some change in the system by which the parts for representation were distributed among the members of the chamber, and the time had also come for the separation of the educational from the artistic functions of the chambers. The time was past for giving instruction in theology and science through the medium of plays. Rodenburg continued the tradition, but Brederoo scoffed at philosophising ostlers and servant-girls. The result of the dissension was a schism led by Coster, under whom the more brilliant and learned members swarmed off and founded the famous "Coster's Academy," whose blazon was a beehive and motto Yver. The intention of the founders was to separate and yet retain both the functions of the older chambers. The Academy was to be a college and a theatre—an "Extension College" giving instruction in the vernacular, whereas the universities allowed only the use of Latin—and a theatre for the production of plays composed in accordance with the "rules" of Aristotle and Horace.
In the first of their purposes—
"de burgery te stichten
En met de fackel van de duytsche taal te lichten"—
they were defeated by the jealousy of the clergy, and the fact was not forgotten by the dramatists. The Coster's
Academy. years immediately following the opening of the Academy were years of great dramatic activity. Coster's Polyxena, Hooft's Warenar, and Brederoo's Spaensche Brabander were all Academy plays, and war was waged not only with Rodenburg but with the clergy. But in 1620 the strife ended. Brederoo was dead; Coster and Hooft became silent; gradually the old breach was healed, and the Academy and Eglantine united in the "Amsterdamsche Kamer," for which a new theatre was built, and opened in 1638 with the performance of Vondel's Gysbrecht van Amstel.
But the year 1620 marked not only the close of the "quarrel of the players," but the end of the first movement towards the creation of a new drama. Hooft, Brederoo, and Coster had certainly done much to raise the serious drama above the level of "rederijkers'" work, as may be clearly seen by comparing their plays with those of writers for the Brabantian Chamber such as Kolm and De Koning. Still, they had not succeeded in creating a drama at once poetic and dramatically interesting. The popular plays continued to be tragi-comedies—plays half history, half morality—and farces. Van der Eembd's Harlemse Belegeringh and Sophonisba (1620), Jan Harmensz. Krul's Diana (1628), Jacob Struys's Romeo en Juliette (based on Baudello's novel, but showing no acquaintance with Shakespeare's play), H. Roelandt's Biron (1629), are the names of one or two through which the present writer has struggled without finding much to reward the trouble. The style varies between bombast and utter banality. Roelandt's Biron has the brag of Chapman's hero, but not the lofty poetic eloquence. The best popular plays are the farces, often unspeakably coarse. The scholarly drama, on the other hand, passed from Hooft to Vondel,—a great lyrical poet certainly, but not the man to do what Shakespeare effected for the romantic, or Corneille for the classical, drama.
Vondel formed his dramatic style slowly, and it was not until 1635 that he selected tragedy as the Vondel's
First Plays. principal vehicle for the expression of his sentiments, religious and political. His earliest play, Het Pascha ofte de Verlossinge Israels uit Egypten (published 1612), produced by the Brabantian Chamber, where Biblical plays were still in vogue, has the naïve structure and dramatic weakness of the Chamber plays; but the death of the first-born is well described, and the style and versification show already the hand of a poet. Hierusalem Verwoest (1620), with which Vondel made his début at Coster's Academy, is not stronger dramatically, but the language is purer, and the choruses have the fire and pulse of his best poetry. Neither of these plays, however, was later included by Vondel among his works. They were "'prentice" pieces, written before he had made acquaintance with the classics. The first fruit of his self-imposed study of Latin was a translation, made in collaboration with Hooft and Laurens Reael, of the Troades of Seneca, which Grotius had entitled the "Queen of tragedies." This was followed in 1625 by his first important tragedy, the Palamedes,—of whose political significance we have spoken already,—a play thoroughly Senecan in structure, spirit, and machinery.
For seven years after the appearance of the Palamedes Vondel was better known as a poet than a dramatist. Like Milton, he hesitated as he became familiar with classical models whether he should Return to the
stage. express his religious sentiments in epic or tragic form. It was in part his admiration for Grotius which brought him back to the stage. In 1635 Grotius published his Latin tragedy Sophompaneas. Vondel, with the help of two friends, translated the play, and, to judge from the number of times it was subsequently performed at the new theatre, it must have been received with favour from the beginning. It was possibly the success of this translation, as well as Vondel's reputation as the first poet of the Academy,—now merged in the new Amsterdam Chamber,—which led to his being invited to compose the play with which the new theatre was opened in the following year. The subject he chose—Gysbrecht van Amstel (1637)—was suggested by Hooft's Geeraerdt van Velzen, and has the same patriotic motive,—to sing the praises of Amsterdam, her greatness material and spiritual. The device Vondel adopted is characteristic of the strange blend in Dutch poetry at this period of intense patriotism, national and local, with the devout and pedantic admiration of the classics. In substance the Gysbrecht is a dramatisation of the fall of Troy as narrated in the second book of the Æneid, adapted to Amsterdam, and that the Amsterdam not of the twelfth century, but of the poet's own day. The story is essentially an epic one, and the most striking scenes have to be narrated in detailed picturesque descriptions, appropriate enough in the mouth of Æneas as he sits at Dido's table while the shadows fall, and renews past griefs, not equally so when delivered in the midst of the scene itself, while the roar of flames and fighting and the crash of falling buildings are audible in the background. But Vondel's conception of a dramatic action was neither Shakespeare's nor Corneille's. His exercise in satirical and lyrical-descriptive poetry had matured his style, and the narrations are glowing, the Alexandrines stately and musical, while two of the choruses—in which another note, the Catholic, that was soon to become dominant in his poetry, appears for the first time—are among the finest of Vondel's lyrics,—the beautiful Christmas song—
- "O kerstnacht schooner dan de dagen,"
and the noble ode to married love—
"Waer werd oprechter trouw
Dan tusschen man en vrouw
Ter wereld oit gevonden."
The Catholic atmosphere of the Gysbrecht—its glorification of Christmas and of martyrdom—excited the suspicions of the Amsterdam clergy, and in fact Vondel three years later became a Catholic, and that with all the zeal and devotion of his South Netherland and poetic temperament. The change affected all his subsequent work, colouring even his political sentiments, for the Catholics of Holland were in much closer sympathy than the Protestants with the inhabitants of the southern provinces.
The Gysbrecht was followed by thirty years of strenuous activity as a dramatist on Vondel's part, which did not exclude the composition of long didactic
activity. and narrative poems, as well as translations and lyrics in abundance. The number of his original tragedies—excluding translations—is twenty-three, of which only a few can be mentioned here, preliminary to a word or two on Vondel's tragic art generally.
The Maeghden, with which he followed up Gysbrecht in 1639, is practically a Miracle-play, on the traditional martyrdom of Saint Ursula at Cologne, and interests only by its Catholic and patriotic sentiment. Vondel's love of Cologne, the city of his birth, is beautifully expressed in one of the finest of his personal lyrics, the Olyftack aan Gustaaf Adolf (1632).
The Gebroeders of the same year handles with considerable dramatic power the difficult subject of the expiatory murder of Saul's sons, which attracted other dramatists of the Renaissance. Conflicting passions are portrayed with more than usual power, but the impression produced by the play as a whole is confused and weakened by the division of the author's sympathies as man and poet on the one hand, as pious exponent of the Bible on the other. Jonckbloet's theory, that in the person of the Archpriest, who persuades David to comply with the demand of the Gibeonites, Vondel was attacking the Calvinist clergy, is not admissible in view of the poet's religious and ecclesiastical sympathies at this stage. He approves David's act though he commiserates the victims. In the dedication to Vossius he places the conduct of David on a level with Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. David was a favourite character with Vondel as the ancestor and type of Christ, and the play was written to celebrate his eminent piety, and because of the tragic character of the story—as "tragic" was understood by admirers of Seneca like Vossius and Grotius. They praised the play enthusiastically, and it was performed forty-six times before the poet's death. An interesting record of the actors who performed, and of the staging prepared for the representation, has been preserved. The altar, candlestick, and priest's robes were all accurately and gorgeously reproduced, and the description emphasises the strangeness of the phenomenon presented by these sacred plays in so Protestant a country—the large element of the Middle Ages which the Chambers of Rhetoric preserved.
In the following year (1640) Vondel composed a couple of plays intended to form, with his translations of Sophompaneas, a trilogy on the story of Joseph—Joseph in Dothan and Joseph in Egypten. Characters of the pure and simple piety of Joseph, as Vondel portrays him, or saints and martyrs like Ursula and Jephtha's daughter, were specially dear to Vondel's heart, and are drawn with considerable charm. With his wicked characters he was too entirely out of sympathy to lend them strength and dignity. But the voluptuous passion of Jempsar, the wife of Potiphar, in Joseph in Egypten, and of Urania in Noah, is painted with colour and power. Pieter en Pauwel (1641) is another saints' play, more edifying to believers than dramatic, and so is Marie Stuart (1646). Mary dies a stainless martyr for the Catholic faith. Vondel was a zealous champion of the Queen of Scots and of her grandson Charles. But the saint, a favourite hero or heroine with Vondel, is perhaps the least dramatic of characters, for in the saint's mind all conflict is over. Even in Corneille's great tragedy, it is not the lyrical Polyeucte who most interests, but the more human and agitated Pauline and Sévère.
Vondel returned to more solid ground in the Leeuwendaelers (1648), a pastoral drama written to celebrate Leeuwendaelers. the Treaty of Munster, which closed the eighty years' war. Peace was the note which Vondel, like Hooft in the Baeto, desired to strike. He had no wish to exult over Spain or to keep alive proud memories of the war. He regretted the final separation of the northern from the southern Netherlands, and was inclined to think that there had been wrong on both sides, and that the war had been prolonged by those who wished to fish in troubled waters. Instead of exalting the Netherlands or the House of Orange, he preferred to describe the evils of dissension and the blessings of peace. He took the plot of his pastoral allegory from the Pastor Fido, with suggestions from the Aminta, but the sentiments are Dutch, bourgeois, not courtly, and so are the scenes, green pastures and cows, canals and sluices,—a people for whom the mere glory of war has no attraction, which loves above all things peace and prosperity. In this play and those which followed Vondel's dramatic art attained maturity.
In Salomon (1648) he dealt with the falling away to idolatry of the old king under the influence of his Salomon. Phenician wife, Sidonia. The hero is too weak and unimpressive for a tragedy, but Sidonia has greater power, the best scenes are dramatic, and the workmanship in every respect—invention, arrangement, verse—is admirable.
Still finer and greater is Lucifer (1654), which has been described as the shining summit of Dutch poetry of the seventeenth century. Vondel was not fettered here by having to follow too closely a story narrated in Scripture. The references to the fall of Lucifer, on which this and other works on the subject rest, are few, short, and not a little obscure. The poet was free to invent his own incidents and motives. In doing so, he drew upon his memory and observation of events which had moved him passionately. That he intended to write a political allegory—like Palamedes, or even De Leeuwendaelers—is, apart from other considerations, incompatible with the poet's reverential attitude towards sacred and Scriptural subjects. But in describing a great mutiny in heaven, a rising of the angels to vindicate their "rights," and the leaders who use it to further personal ambition, he recalled the use Prince Maurice had made of popular feeling against Oldenbarneveldt, and the progress of the contemporary rebellion in England with the rise of Cromwell. The result was a play more dramatic and moving, in action and character, than anything he had written. Lucifer's deeply wounded pride, Belial's Iago-like instigations, Beelzebub's "policy," Michael's stern and unbending loyalty, Raphael's pleading, are clearly and grandly drawn. The interviews are not mere interchanges of argumentative platitudes, but show us the clash of contending passions. It is not so much with Milton's epic treatment of the same theme that Vondel's play invites comparison, except in the descriptive passages,—and even here the differences are as great as the resemblances,—but, one is tempted to say, with Shakespeare's earlier Marlowesque histories, their comparatively simple but intense characters and vehement eloquence. Even the choral odes are not undramatic excrescences. The chorus of angels takes an active part in the debates, and their songs are evoked naturally and directly by the events of the moment. The faults of the tragedy are the necessary exclusion of God from direct participation in the action, and the inclusion of the fall of Adam in what might be called a postscript. The latter action should have been left for another play, and Vondel felt this, for he wrote another on the subject.
In none of his subsequent plays does Vondel come so near to a dramatic and tragic as well as a literary Later Plays. and poetic masterpiece. Excluding translations from Sophocles and Euripides, he wrote eleven more tragedies. Jeptha (1659), Koning David in Ballingschap (1660), Koning David Herstelt (1660), Samson (1660), Adonias (1661), Adam in Ballingschap (1664), and Noah (1667), are Biblical; Salmoneus (1656) and Faeton of Reuckeloze Stoutheit (1663), mythological; Zungchin of Ondergang der Sineesche Heerschappye (1666) was inspired by his enthusiasm for the Jesuit missions to China; and Batavische Gebroeders (1662) is on a patriotic theme similar to Hooft's Baeto. Of these we need mention only four.
In Jeptha (1659) Vondel boasted that he had produced a tragedy which complied exactly with the requirements of the critics from Aristotle to Vossius and La Mesnardières, while adhering closer to Scripture than Buchanan; but the chief interest of the play, apart from the poetry, is the ingenuity with which Vondel has used the story to propagate the Catholic condemnation of private judgment. In Buchanan's play Jephtha represents uninstructed religious feeling. A man must keep his oath, cost what it may. The priest who dissuades him from the sacrifice voices a more enlightened religion, which forbids to keep an oath when to do so involves a crime. In Vondel's play the conflict is between the conscience of the individual and the power and authority of the priest. Pressed to consult the High Priest before sacrificing his daughter, Jephtha justifies the appeal to his own conscience, and cries in Luther's words—
- "Godt is mijn burgh en vaste toeverlaet."
But Vondel fails to make Jephtha's conflict tragic. His sorrow and remorse when he realises his error are wanting in dignity. The poet's favourite character is the maiden martyr Iphis, who comes to the sacrifice arrayed as a bride, and with the words of the Psalmist on her lips—
"Geen hygend hart, vervolgt en afgeronnen,
Verlangde oit meer naer koele waterbronnen,
Als mijne ziel, na zoo veel strijts, verlangt
En hyght naar Godt, waeraen mijn leven hangt."
Vondel's Samson (1660) will not bear comparison for a moment with Samson Agonistes. His hero has Samson. none of the grandeur of Milton's, and the play is inferior both in unity of interest and elevation of sentiment. Vondel had not Milton's intense personal sympathy with the Old Testament hero. He fills up his drama with irrelevant discussions of the attitude of the Church to the stage, and the relation between Church and State. Samson interests him only as a type of a greater deliverer.
The Adam in Ballingschap (1664) is dramatically a weak and bourgeois presentation of the story of the Adam. Fall. Adam is scolded into participation in Eve's action. But it contains some lyrical antiphonies (an angel's song of the Creation, and songs of adoration and joy between Adam and Eve) which remind an English reader of the Prometheus Unbound. This poetic and lyric interest Vondel's dramas retained to the end. Noah, composed when he was eighty, has lyrical choruses as light and fresh as the work of a poet in the first flush of his power. The song on the death of the swan is a perfect harmony of feeling and rhythm—
"Stervende zingtze een vrolijk liet
In 't suikerriet
In 't suikerriet.
Zy tart de nijdighe doot uit lust
En sterft gerust."
The dramatic weakness of Vondel's tragedies, the failure of any one of them to present quite adequately Review. a great dramatic action or impressive characters, was pointed out in an unsparing review by Jonckbloet, who was acutely out of sympathy with both the classical pedantry of the seventeenth century and Vondel's religious sentiment. Much of what he said is undeniable, and applies not only to Vondel's plays but to the whole range of Renaissance classical tragedy, under which head I do not include the tragedies of Corneille and Racine. Yet the fact remains that Vondel's plays were written to be acted; that they enjoyed a considerable measure of popularity; and, moreover, that they were the work of a poet of genius—even if that genius was lyrical rather than dramatic—and a poet who, despite a touch of the pedantry of his age, was inspired in general, not by pedantic but by personal, patriotic, and religious motives. It is worth while, therefore, to try and look at Vondel's tragedies not from the point of view of any hard and fast aesthetic theory of the drama, whether classical or romantic, but from the poet's own point of view; not comparing them with the very different tragedies of Shakespeare or Racine, but trying to discover whether they have any special feature which distinguishes them from the purely artificial Senecan tragedy of the Renaissance. Such an aspect has been indicated by Professor Te Winkel. In an interesting and exhaustive study of Vondel's tragedies, he has pointed Vondel's Plays descended from the Mysteries. out that in spirit and intention Vondel's dramas are a direct continuation of the Mysteries and Miracle-plays of the Middle Ages, and may be as justly styled the last flowering of the sacred drama in the north as Calderon's religious pieces were in the south. This statement applies to the form as well as the content of Vondel's earlier attempts, Het Pascha and Hierusalem Verwoest. Similar Biblical plays were composed by other members of the Brabantian Chamber, and both their spirit and naïve structure are those of the Mysteries, though the style is that of the Rederijkers. Vondel, however, as we have seen, rejected these plays, and his later tragedies were shaped by his study of Seneca, of the school drama of Buchanan and Hugo Grotius, of Sophocles and Euripides, as well as of the classical critics interpreted for him by Heinsius and Vossius. But none of these altered radically his conception of the character of a dramatic action, and none of them affected the spirit and motive with which he wrote his plays.
The mode in which an action was presented in a classical play of the Renaissance was, after all, despite the Unities, not very different from that of the Mysteries and Moralities. In both cases the story was generally familiar, the plot a series of episodes. There was—as I will indicate more fully in the chapter on the French drama—little or no endeavour to develop a story from the interaction of character and circumstance in such a way as to excite suspense. The finest tragedies consist of a series of statuesque scenes draped in oratorical and lyrical verse. Vondel's tragedies are built on the same plan. He takes a well-known story, generally from the Bible, and presents it in a series of scenes filled with long speeches or balanced dialogue. Single scenes are dramatically written, and in some of the best plays—Salomon, Joseph in Dothan, Leeuwendaelers—the story is simply and naturally conducted. But only in Lucifer is our interest aroused as to the final choice and consequent fate of the hero; and even in Lucifer the attention is, for dramatic effect, too frequently distracted from the central figure.
But dramatic effect is not the end which Vondel had first of all in view. If the classical drama modified the form of his tragedies, the spirit remained unaltered. With all their faults, his tragedies are no frigid classical reconstructions, but the expression of his deepest feelings, and their purpose is that of the Mysteries—edification and exaltation. He would doubtless, like Grotius, have chosen for his chief play the central theme of the Mysteries, but Vondel wrote in the vernacular and for the stage, and the reception of the Lucifer, which dealt with the first act in the great drama, warned him from venturing on dangerous ground. It was driven from the stage by the Amsterdam preachers after three performances, and the Salmoneus, one of his two plays on classical subjects, was written to make use of the artificial heaven prepared for the Lucifer. But though he did not venture on the subject of the Passion, not only are the great majority of his plays taken from the Bible, but, as Professor Te Winkel points out, those subjects are generally selected (as in the Mysteries) which were regarded as typifying the death and resurrection of Christ—the sacrifice of Jephtha's daughter, the death of Samson type of Him
- "Who in His death gave death a mortal wound,"
the stories of Noah, Joseph, and David.
This devotional purpose set rigid limits to Vondel's dramatic art. He could not handle his stories as Shakespeare did Holinshed, or Corneille Roman and Byzantine history, altering the record and supplying the motives. He stood with bowed head before the incidents and the persons as he found them in Scripture. He expressly accepts Vossius' rule, "What God's Book says, of necessity; what it does not say, sparingly; what conflicts with it, on no account." He does best work, therefore, where the story is already well motived, or where the record is scanty. But Vondel's dramas, to be fully appreciated, need to be read in the devotional spirit in which they were written,—a difficult task for readers who have become critical even of Vondel's sources, and are not prepared to accept the execution of Saul's sons as an instance of Divine justice. The difficulty has led critics like Dr Jonckbloet to find political allegory in plays such as Gebroeders and Lucifer where the poet's devotional feeling would never have admitted it. And another barrier to the enjoyment of Vondel's plays as such is the not infrequently bourgeois tone of his piety. His characters are sometimes almost ludicrously unheroic in act and speech. The Dutch as a people have, it may be, no great love for the dramatically heroic—the fine point of honour, splendid but desolating passions. No nation has done more heroic deeds; none has cared less for mere glory in comparison with duty, material prosperity, and domestic happiness.
Vondel's plays are therefore not much read to-day, except by students and by generous lovers of poetry, Their lyrical
features. of which there is abundance, especially in the choral odes. The late Dr Nicholas Beets, himself a poet, and the most humorous painter of Dutch life, has enumerated and illustrated the beauties of Vondel's choruses, and they are those of all his best lyric poetry, ardour and sweetness, fertility and subtlety of thought, learning and moral nobility, and with all and above all a music of verse which is at every turn the full and resonant counterpart of the feeling. In this, the supreme gift of the lyrical poet, possessed by Dutch poetry in an extraordinarily high degree, Vondel excels all his countrymen. Vague in thought at times, in ardour and sustained rhythmical flight the chorus on God in Lucifer could not be easily surpassed. No translation can do justice to the original, but a single strophe may give some impression of the tone of Vondel's religious verse:—
"Who is it that, enthroned on high,
Deep in unfathomable light,
Nor time nor time's eternity
May measure being infinite?
The Self-existent, Self-sustaining,
By and in whom all things that are,
Their course prescribed unchanged retaining,
Move round as round their central star:
The Sun of suns, His life that lendeth
To all our soul conceives, and all
Conception's limit that transcendeth,
The Fount, the Sea whence on us fall
Blessings unnumbered from Him flowing,
Proof of His wisdom, power, and grace,
Evoked from nought ere yet this glowing
Palace of Heaven arose in space;
Where we our eyes with our wings veiling
Before His radiant Majesty,
Chanting the hymn of praise unfailing,
Bend as we chant the adoring knee,
And, falling on our face in prayer,
Cry, 'Who is He? Oh! tell, proclaim!
With tongue of Seraphim declare—
Or knows no tongue no thought that Name?'"
The antiphonal song of the six days' creation in Adam, the description of morning and the country in Palamedes, the Phœnix chorus in Joseph, the already-mentioned Christmas and marriage songs in Gysbrecht, are others of the many pieces which, when all has been said that can be of his dramatic weakness, leave Vondel still the pride of his countrymen.
It is maintained in a subsequent chapter that there is no conclusive evidence that Milton was in any way Milton and
Vondel. influenced by Vondel. There is no room here to compare them in detail. Milton was both a more perfect artist and a greater creative genius. No single character in all Vondel's plays lives in the imagination like Milton's Satan. Vondel is more purely the lyric poet at the mercy of his inspiration. Yet there are some notes in Vondel's lyre of which Milton never learned the secret. A less finished artist, a less sublime and overawing poet of the supernatural, there is a sweetness, a charm, in Vondel's poetry which Milton's too soon lost, and his religious verse glows with a purer flame of love for God and his fellow-men.
It is not difficult to understand that Vondel's dramas failed to achieve for the Dutch drama what Jan Vos. Corneille's effected for the French. They might be admired by men of taste and scholarship who were not repelled by the Catholic atmosphere, but they could never thrill a crowded theatre like Hamlet or the Cid. Their failure in this respect is proved by the resurgence in 1641 of the romantic drama in a crude and barbaric form. In that year Jan Vos (c. 1620-1667), a glazier in Amsterdam, created a sensation, which affected even scholars like Barlaeus, and poets such as Hooft and Vondel, by his Aran en Titus, of Wraek en Weerwraek, a vigorous but bombastic and melodramatic version of the Titus Andronicus story, which the Dutch poet may have derived from Shakespeare's play. If he did he was careful to exclude the poetry with which Shakespeare relieved his painful scenes. The impression which this melodramatic piece produced was due to the fact that, so far as it goes, melodrama is drama, which stately pageants, long speeches, and choral odes are not. The taste of scholars was not shocked by horrors which Seneca had taught them were appropriate to tragedy so long as crime ended in punishment, and learned and unlearned alike enjoyed the interest of incident and suspense. But Aran en Titus indicated unmistakably the failure of the effort inaugurated by the Eglantine—the miscarriage of the Dutch drama. The popular and the scholarly had failed to blend in a living and cultured drama. The classical remained a school drama, the romantic degenerated rapidly. Vos's Medea, with which the second new theatre in Amsterdam was opened in 1662, was a melodrama furnished with elaborate stage-effects, and "Konst en vliegh-werck" were soon reckoned to be of more importance than characters and poetry. It is unnecessary to speak of slipshod translations from Spanish and French. The society whose motto was "Nil volentibus arduum" spoke much in the closing years of the century about the reform of the stage; but their vanity was greater than their genius, and they did not rise above translation.
It fared a little better with that vigorous native growth, the farce, the coarseness and general slack Later Comedy. morality of which shows how much of a popular growth it continued to be. One of Brederoo's closest imitators was Willem Diederickz. Hooft, author of five farcical pieces; but the best writers of comedy and farce in the latter years of the century were Dr Pieter Bernagie (1650-1699), who wrote some fifteen tragedies and comedies, "free and natural pictures of the native manners of his time," which have not yet disappeared from the stage, and Thomas Asselijn, whose Jan Klaaszen (1682), Stiefmoer (1684), Stiefvaar (1690), and Spilpenning (1690), are brilliant comic pictures of life and manners in the last days of the century. Jan Klaaszen of Gewaande Dienstmaagd is his masterpiece, inferior in comic spirit to Brederoo's best work, but superior in construction, owing, doubtless, in some measure to the beneficial influence of Molière. Asselijn and Langendijk, who followed, lie somewhat outside the period covered in this volume.
- They were edited for the first time by Hoffmann von Fallersleben from the single manuscript in which they are all preserved (the Hulthemsche MS. of the early fifteenth century, the répertoire of some guild or company) in that scholar's Horæ Belgicæ, and were later included by Professor H. E. Moltzer in his Bibliotheek van Middelnederlandsche Letterkunde (Groningen, 1868-75), of which a new edition is in course of publication. For the questions raised see Jonckbloet's Geschicdenis, ii. 6. 1, and works cited there; also Creizenach, Geschichte des neueren Dramas, Fünftes Buch (Halle, 1901).
- Samuel Coster's Werken uitg. R. A. Kollewijn, Haarlem, 1883.
- No modern edition.
- Editions, vid. sup., p. 18 note.
- Jonckbloet gives a full account of the quarrel, Geschiedenis, ii. p. 101 f.
- The Lucifer has been translated by Mr Leonard Charles van Noppen, an American student. For relation to Paradise Lost, see chap. iv., note.
- Bladzijden uit de Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Letterkunde Haarlem, 1882, pp. 135-343.
- Verscheidenheden, Haarlem, 1885.