Article Title

Vondel’s Brothers and the Power of Imagination


Stijn Bussels


This article discusses the first series of performances of Joost van den Vondel’s Brothers in Amsterdam in 1641. The drama focuses on the heart-rending decision king David has to take to follow God’s will to ratify the executions of Saul’s sons and grandsons. With the staging of Brothers Vondel made an experiment in spreading the Word of God as profoundly, but also as respectfully as possible. He avoids showing the executions explicitly. Instead he uses diverse dramatic and visual means to urge the theatregoers to create strong mental images and thus to empathize maximally with David. Vondel’s experiment in theatre practice has striking parallels with theatre theory of the same period. In his poetics Vondel’s close friend Gerardus Vossius initiates modern discussion on the overwhelming effect of dramatic performances. With the help of Longinus’s On the Sublime Vossius makes a distinction between the ‘cheap’ momentary effect of staging explicit cruelties and the long-lasting effect of our imagination. By placing the performance of Brothers at the center of attention we get a privileged view on theatre practice and related theoretical discussion on the effect of the dramatic performance in the Dutch Golden Age.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.