Report on Spring School Historical Performance Studies, March 27-March 31, Groningen

By Caroline Baetens


Monday the 27th of March we gathered in the University building in the centre of Groningen for an introduction on what would become a very fruitful week of lectures, workshops and discussions about historical performance studies. We were welcomed by the organisers of the Spring School of the Huizinga Institute and the Universities of Groningen and Ghent. With a brief discussion of an image of Bidloo’s anatomy of the arm (1690) Lucas van der Deijl touched on the varied topics that we would examine during the following days, immediately illustrating the breadth of performance and performativity. The variety of research topics, time periods and approaches mentioned during the short introductions of participants and attending lecturers, equally forecasted the diversity of topics we would encounter in the span of a week.

This first introduction was followed by a first glimpse of the city during the walk guided by Renée Vulto in which she engagingly taught us about the public celebrations at the end of the 18th Century. Walking in the market squares, we were invited to imagine the Dutch-French alliance that took place there in 1795. The addition of maps, paintings and music of the time completed this immersion. While singing the triumph song together, the sounds of passing cars and roadworks evaporated, the liberty tree seemingly rose on the main square and we quickly felt united as a group. This sense of community strengthened while we all got to know each other better over drinks at a local bar.


We continued the next day in the Van Swinderen Huis with the first lectures on rituality, performance and performativity by Marian Füssel from the University of Göttingen and Rina Knoeff from the local University of Groningen. We learned more about the origins and the history of rituals of violence and graduation, as well as rituals of public anatomies, linked to the Academic institution in which we all take part. Both lectures had attention for the changes of these rituals over time: we saw how the symbols of the academic rituals remained the same but were assigned new meanings in different historical contexts and how private anatomies and anatomic preparations incited developments in the rituals of the public anatomies. Moreover, the presentations revealed not only the unifying, but also the divisive power of rituals, which was linked to Bourdieu’s notion of symbolic power and social magic. The meaning and differences between the concepts of ritual, ceremony, performance, performativity, staging etc. got further exploration during the discussion and the pitches in which participants linked them to their own research. Jorn Hubo investigated the potential of the Middle Dutch romance Rose-Cassamus as a public text and the identification processes of the courtly public. Through an engaging inspection of one of Picart’s engravings, Steff Nellis presented the theatricality of Picart and Bernard’s Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde (1723-1737). Imke Vet guided us through Late Medieval Maastricht and reconstructed the routes of the urban processions based on the proxemic signs in the Libri Ordinarii of the Collegiate Church of Saint Servatius and the Collegiate Church of Our Lady. Ricarda Schier taught us about the performativity of Byzantine letter sending in the Eastern Roman Empire, showing the varied levels of performance in which one text can function.


The third day of Spring School was centred around embodiment, performativity and self-fashioning. Presenting three cases of self-fashioning in early modern England, Sidia Fiorato of the University of Verona taught us about the relationship between the body and the identity of normativity or alterity. We reflected on the fight of the individual within the collective structures. Catrien Santing invited us to think about self-fashioning aimed at the performance of well-being in courtly handbooks and the 15th century encyclopaedic manuscripts, referring even to present-day aspirations of beata vita with the #goodlife on Instagram. We were encouraged to critically reflect on the readings of the day which incited discussions about the fashioning of the self to revolt or conform and doubts about the historical specificity of the concept.

We explored these ideas further during the pitches of the participants. I explored Constantijn Huygens’ self-fashioning in and through is garden and garden poem Hofwijck and how this self-fashioning leads him to a feeling of entitlement in relation to his environment. Marly Terwisscha van Scheltinga engaged with the concept of self-fashioning in her presentation of the Dutch lottery rhymes and illustrated how men and women present themselves through the rhymes that are performed during the event of the lottery. Lies Verbaere examined how Giovanni Battista Calderari promoted himself through the dramatic paratext of La Mora, La Schiava and Armida and building on his literary network.


On Thursday we delved into, for many of us, very new approaches to performance studies. In the morning Erika Kuijpers, Dinah Wouters and Andrea Peverelli familiarized us with digital humanities and the opportunities of digital tools and computational methods for the study historical performance. Erika Kuijpers from the VU Amsterdam presented the project “Embodied Emotions” about sentiment mining in early modern Dutch theatre texts. She explained the development of the model HEEM, how they applied it and its potential for future research. In the following workshop, Dinah Wouters and Andrea Peverelli from the Huizinga Institute presented the Translatin project and their experience and application of digital tools and computational methods in their part of the project. Their examples and case studies were very encouraging and illustrated the possibilities of these methods and the tools for our own research. We were invited to ask and discuss specific questions and obstacles in using digital tools in humanities, which was undoubtedly very helpful for the development of our own projects.

As a welcome variation on the daily pitches, we continued the afternoon with a workshop historical acting techniques given by Laïla Cathleen Neuman. Very fittingly, we met in a lecture hall of the Harmony Building which was once a theatre. We explored acting techniques and expression of passions and emotions based on Aaron Hill’s Essay on the Art of Acting (1753) and Johannes Jelgerhuis’ images and treatise on gesticulation. We all elegantly practiced our contrapposto, learned about the importance of the position of the hands and in the end performed a poem and three passions together.


We finished the Spring School with an exploration of the concept of imagineering. Frans-Willem Korsten, Kornee van der Haven, Karel Vanhaesebrouck and Inger Leemans were with us to present the concept of imagineering or marketing violence. Through the example of the windmill, Frans-Willem Korsten taught us about the circulation of images that define how people present and find themselves in the world. Kornee van der Haven further clarified the shift from theatrical spectacle to a regime of representation propelled by the market and how the eye gets lost in the swirl of images that this market triggers. Karel Vanhaesebrouck explored this further through the case of the Amsterdam Schouwburg linking the imagineering shift to a development from hyper mediacy to transparent imediacy. They all emphasised the importance of questioning what is and what is not shown and what is kept conceiled in these processes of representation.

The exploration of imagineering was concluded with three pitches of participants of the Spring School. Miente Pietersma explored the opportunities of the concept of imagineering in the study of martial arts handbooks and the epistemology of the senses by looking into the interplay of texts and images in the Opera Nova of Achille Marozzo. With her presentation on Frederik Ruysch’ anatomical cabinet, Estel van den Berg shed a new light on the topic of anatomy that we studied in the context of rituality. She related the anatomical preparations and catalogues to the cultural imagination of life and death. To close this last session of pitches, Mart Rewinkel presented the idea of the Dutch mountains and explored the conceptualization and imagination of the mountain in the seventeenth century low countries.

There was ample time for questions on the presentations and the readings we prepared for each day. Which led to discussions connecting the topics of the day and concepts we got in contact with during the different lectures of the week. I personally found it very stimulating to hear everyone’s perspective on the theories and how they related the theoretical concepts to their own specific research. In this way, we were brought in contact with very specific cases, while still being encouraged and challenged to recognize the similarities between them.

During lunch, dinner and coffee breaks we often continued talking about the subjects and related topics of today’s society. The violent rituals of initiation of the early modern university brought us to violence and death in initiation rituals of students of modern universities, while anatomical theatres and cabinets gave rise to reflections on the ethicality of human remains in museums and scientific archives. With these reflections we all said goodbye and hoped to see eachother again for the next equally thought-provoking Spring School.


Vacature: promotieplaats UGent voor onderzoek naar vroegmoderne komedies

Het FWO-project ‘Vensters van verlangen: De verbeelding van consumptie in de komedie van de Lage Landen (1650-1725)’ biedt een positie aan voor een doctoraatsstudent voor 4 jaar aan de Universiteit Gent. Het project is ingebed in de onderzoeksgroepen Thalia (VUB-UGent), GEMS en de Vakgroep letterkunde aan de UGent, evenals het Centre de Recherche en Cinéma et Spectacle vivant (CiASp) aan de ULB. Het onderzoeksteam zal ook verbonden zijn aan de internationale onderzoeksgroep ITEMP. Voor het digitale luik zal er samengewerkt worden met de onderzoeksgroep LT3 en het Centre for Digital Humanities aan de UGent.

Het project onderzoekt de representatie van consumptie en verlangen in vroegmoderne Nederlandse komedies. Het project benadrukt niet alleen het belang van een genre dat in de Nederlandse literatuurgeschiedschrijving lange tijd ernstig verwaarloosd werd, maar het beoogt ook een bijdrage te leveren aan wetenschapsgebieden die al langer onderzoek doen naar vroegmodern consumptiegedrag, maar zonder daarbij veel aandacht te besteden aan processen van culturele verbeelding. Aangezien komedies veelal herkenbare sociale omgevingen beschrijven, leveren zij niet alleen unieke informatie over bezit en waardetoekenning, maar ook over de morele, sociale en emotionele dynamiek van vroegmoderne consumptie. De toneelstukken bevatten expliciete verwijzingen naar consumptie en verlangen maar ze bieden ook inzicht in de wijze waarop deze verlangens de verbeeldingskracht van het toneelpersonage als consument stimuleren. Door middel van een analyse van een gedigitaliseerd corpus van ongeveer 200 toneelstukken zal het project een semantisch woordveld in beeld brengen dat zich in de vroegmoderne periode rond consumptiegedrag en de wens om te consumeren ontwikkelde. Aan de hand van een diepgaande analyse van een weloverwogen selectie van toneelstukken zal onderzocht worden hoe deze tekstuele kenmerken zich verhouden tot de opvoeringspraktijk en de filosofische, economische en poëticale context van het vroegmoderne toneel.

Kandidaturen kunnen worden ingediend voor 1 juni 2023. Meer informatie over deze vacature via deze link.

Cornelis Troost, scène uit het blijspel “De spilpenning, of de verkwistende vrouw” van Thomas Asselijn. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam.

Thalia at Orpheus Institute: Guided Tour & Lecture on the African Grove Theater, May 25, 2023

On May 25, we invite you to the Orpheus Institute for a lovely afternoon program with Thalia members and sympathizers. The program consists of two parts: a guided tour of the institute by Dr. Bruno Forment and a lecture on the African Grove Theater by Prof. Jenna M. Gibbs. Below you will find a detailed program, abstracts, and bios.

If you would like to join us for one or two parts of the afternoon, please register by sending an email to Do circulate this invitation to potentially interested colleagues. We will meet at the entrance of the Orpheus Institute (Korte Meer 12, Ghent). Hope to see you on May 25!


15-16h: Introduction to the Orpheus Institute and Ton Koopman Collection, Dr. Bruno Forment

Dr. Bruno Forment will guide us through the Orpheus Institute and talk about its prestigious Ton Koopman Collection in particular. The focus of this collection is 17th- and 18th-century music, as well as its cultural context and performance practice. Over the course of his sixty-year career, Koopman amassed an impressive collection of books and sheet music. Among the thousands of historical prints and manuscripts are numerous one-of-a-kind items, including a cantata by Handel that was unknown until recently. Koopman also collected thousands of modern books and periodicals on Baroque music and culture. The Resounding Libraries research group, led by Dr. Forment, uses the collection to encourage innovative artistic practices and develop new methods within the digital humanities. During his talk, Dr. Forment will discuss the Ton Koopman Collection as a transdisciplinary and transhistorical playground for music and theater studies research in the digital age.

16h-16h30: Coffee

16h30-17h30: Lecture “The African Grove Theater: Protesting Slavery, Asserting Freedom, and Defying Racism in 1820s New York,” Prof. Jenna M. Gibbs

In early nineteenth-century New York, the short-lived all-African American theater troupe, the African Grove Theater, challenged slavery, racism, and restrictions on free African Americans’ voting and civil rights. To do so, the proprietor, William Brown, bravely set up shop next door to the established white fixture, the Park Theater, and then proceeded to daringly set his company’s calendar as provocation: whatever play the Park produced, Brown’s African Grove ensemble immediately staged their own counter-productions. This talk will focus on two of the African Grove’s adaptations and political interpolations against this racially charged backdrop: William Moncrief’s Life in London; or Tom and Jerry and John Fawcett’s Obi, or Three Finger’d Jack. It will conclude with a brief glimpse into how this thespian tradition of protest continues today in namesake theatres, such as the New African Grove Theaters in Atlanta, Georgia, California State University Dominguez Hills and New York.

17h30-18h30: Drinks


Dr. Bruno Forment has degrees in music theory and art studies (PhD, Ghent University, 2007). In 2004, he teamed up with Paul Dombrecht for one of the earliest Trobadors projects in artistic research at the Koninklijk Conservatorium Brussel, the opera seria pasticci Ifigenìa and Ipermestra. Shortly thereafter, he visited the Flora L. Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California as BAEF Francqui Fellow and Fulbright-Hays grantee. From 2008-2015, he was an FWO-postdoctoral fellow at Ghent University. Forment has taught music and theater history at VUB, KU Leuven, and the Royal Conservatoires of Brussels and Ghent. He has programmed and directed the Baroque orchestra Il Fondamento, coordinated the Classical Music department at the Royal Conservatoire of Ghent, and carried out research projects at the Conservatoire of Antwerp and CEMPER-Centrum voor Muziek- en Podiumerfgoed. He has published widely on early opera and music more broadly. His work, which includes several professional music (theater) productions and the discovery of Europe’s largest collection of historical stagesets, has been awarded by the Schweizerische Musikforschende Gesellschaft and the Province of Western Flanders.

Jenna M. Gibbs is Associate Professor of History at Florida International University, where she teaches Atlantic, Global, and American History. She is the author of Performing the Temple of Liberty: Slavery, Theater, and Popular Culture in London and Philadelphia, 1760s–1850s. (2014). She is also co-editor, with Keith M. Baker, of Life Forms in the Thinking of the Long Eighteenth Century (2016) and editor of Global Protestant Missions: Politics, Reform, and Communication, 1730s-1930s (2020). She is also co-editor, with Sünne Juterczenka, of a Special Issue in the Journal of Early Modern History, “Maritime Missions: Religion, Ethnography and Empires in the Long 18th Century” (March 2022). With Sarah J. Adams and Wendy Sutherland, she co-edited Staging Slavery: Performances of Colonial Slavery and Race in International Perspective, 1770-1850 (2023). She is currently working on two forthcoming monographs: The Global Latrobe Family: Evangelicalism, Slavery and Empire 1750s–1850s and The African Grove Theater, Then and Now, from which this talk is drawn.

Medieval and Early Modern Studies Spring School 2023 // Historical Performance Studies

Groningen (Van Swinderen Huys), 27-31 March 2023

This Spring School is organised by Ghent University (Doctoral School AHL), University of Groningen, University of Göttingen, the Huizinga Institute and the Dutch Research School for Medieval Studies to stimulate contacts and exchange between PhD candidates and ReMa students in the field of literary studies, cultural history, art history, media studies, theatre studies, musicology, history of dance, history of religion, history of science, and early modern and medieval history.


Scholars of the medieval and early modern period encounter the concept of performance in various disciplines. The notion of performativity is no longer limited to the study of traditional theatrical arts but also employed to deepen our understanding of social, political, and religious events and rituals. This Spring School will therefore pay attention to a wide range of performances in history, from political gatherings, religious rituals, and courtroom proceedings to theatre, concerts, and dance. It combines a focus on the medieval and early modern period with an interdisciplinary perspective, attending to the theoretical background of performance studies, its related concepts, and its more practical sides. Moreover, the Spring School will enable speakers and participants to reflect on new methodological approaches, including digital humanities, the intertwinement of arts and science, and research through performance.


The course takes four recent lines of research in the field of historical performance studies and their related concepts as a starting point: rituals & performativity, embodiment & self-fashioning, computational approaches, and cultural techniques. Specialists from various scholarly backgrounds (cultural history, history of knowledge, literary studies, and theatre history) will reflect on how they define and apply the above-mentioned concepts in their own research.

An accompanying reading list will offer the participants a stepping stone to engage in further reflection and discussion. Through short pitches, the attending PhD and Research Master students will reflect on the possibilities and difficulties of working with the concerning concepts in their own research projects. More informal talks about historical performance studies will be possible during a thematic guided walk through Groningen and a workshop on historical acting techniques.


Session I: Walk through Groningen – Guide: Renée Vulto (Utrecht University)

Session II: Rituals and Performativity – Lecturers: Marian Füssel (University of Göttingen) & Rina Knoeff (University of Groningen)

Session III: Embodiment, Performativity & Self-fashioning – Lecturers: Sidia Fiorato (University of Verona) & Catrien Santing (University of Groningen)

Session IV: Digital Humanities and Historical Performance Studies – Lecturer: Erika Kuijpers (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Session V: Workshop Digital Humanities – Lecturers: Dinah Wouters (Huygens Institute) & Andrea Peverelli (Huygens Institute)

Session VI: Workshop Historical Acting Techniques – Teacher: Laila Neuman (Leiden University)

Session VII: Imagineering – Lecturers: Frans-Willem Korsten (Leiden University) & Kornee van der Haven (Ghent University)


PhD students and ReMa students are invited to register for this course through the following link: Registration form [] Please note that there is a limited number of places available for this course. After your registration you will soon receive more information about whether your registration can be confirmed or not. Some of the participating graduate/doctoral schools and research groups will cover tuition and lodging for their participating members (please wait for more information after your registration).

Organising institutions and partners

This Spring School is an initiative of GEMS (Group for Early Modern Studies, Ghent University), Thalia (Ghent University-Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Doctoral Schools AHL (Ghent University), University of Göttingen, ICOG (Research Institute for the Study of Culture, University of Groningen), the Huizinga Institute (Netherlands Graduate School for Cultural History, Utrecht University) and the Dutch Research School for Medieval Studies, in close cooperation with, IEMH (Institute for Early Modern History (Ghent University-Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Onderzoeksgroep Nieuwe Tijd (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), Ruusbroecgenootschap (University of Antwerp), and Research Centre for Visual Poetics (University of Antwerp).

Guided visit of the Orpheus Institute, Dec. 14, 2022

We are thrilled to invite you for a guided visit of the Ghent Orpheus Institute, on Wednesday December 14. The tour starts at 15h30 and will focus on the Ton Koopman Collection of the institute’s library, which holds sources about performance practices from the 15th until the 19th century (see below). At 16h, dr. Bruno Foment, senior researcher at the institute, will give a lecture titled “Ton Koopmans bibliotheek als transdisciplinaire en -historische speeltuin voor muziek- en theaterwetenschappelijk onderzoek in digitale tijden.”

Note that both the tour and the lecture will take place in Dutch.

If you would like to join us, please let us know by sending an email to Please do circulate this invitation to potentially interested colleagues.

(c) Michael De Lausnay


Ton Koopmancollectie

Begin 2020 verwierf het Orpheus Instituut de prestigieuze bibliotheek van Ton Koopman. De focus van de collectie is de 17de- en 18de-eeuwse muziek, haar culturele context en uitvoeringspraktijk. In de loop van zijn zestigjarige carrière verzamelde Koopman een imposante collectie boeken en bladmuziek. Onder de duizenden drukken en handschriften bevinden zich talrijke unica, waaronder een tot voor kort onbekende cantate van Händel. Naast deze historische bibliotheek met werken uit de 15de tot en met de 19de eeuw verzamelde Koopman ook nog eens duizenden moderne boeken en tijdschriften over de barokmuziek en -cultuur. Bijzonder is dat veel van zowel de oude als de moderne boeken uitvoerig zijn geannoteerd door de musicus. De collectie is onderwerp van de onderzoeksgroep Resounding Libraries, geleid door barokspecialist dr. Bruno Forment (hoofdonderzoeker). De onderzoekluster zet de partituren en boeken in om innovatieve artistieke praktijken aan te moedigen en nieuwe methodes te ontwikkelen binnen de digital humanities. In dat kader ontsluit het Orpheus Instituut de collectie ook digitaal om haar maximaal beschikbaar te maken voor onderzoekers in België en daarbuiten.

Lezing: Heropvoeren van een middeleeuws tafelspel, door Bart Ramakers (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen)

16 juni van 16-17u in de Faculteitszaal (Campus Boekentoren, Gent)

Een land van belofte? Kansen en dilemma’s van het heropvoeren van een middeleeuws tafelspel

In september 2022 speelt de Amsterdamse Theatergroep De Kale de productie Het Land van Belofte, die gebaseerd is op een zestiende-eeuws toneelstuk, het tafelspel van Schipper, Pelgrim en Post. Tafelspelen waren korte toneelstukjes bestemd voor opvoering tijdens maaltijden. Bart Ramakers is als gastdramaturg bij deze productie betrokken. Ze maakt onderdeel uit van een performance-as-research-traject, waarbij het creatieve proces, vanaf de eerste repetitie tot en met de laatste voorstelling, wordt gevolgd. Doel is de kansen en dilemma’s – artistiek en cultureel – in kaart te brengen die verbonden zijn aan het ensceneren van historische toneelstukken, in het bijzonder op locaties waar ze in het verleden opgevoerd werden – of opgevoerd kunnen zijn. Want dat is de ambitie van het project: een historisch geïnspireerde voorstelling te maken die tijdens maaltijden op verschillende historische locaties gespeeld wordt. De voordracht zal gaan over het bewuste tafelspel, over de kansen en dilemma’s van heropvoering, en over de keuzes die dienaangaande al zijn gemaakt, want inmiddels is met het repetitie- en productieproces en daarmee ook met het onderzoek begonnen.

Lecture: Elckerlijc (1495) Revisited, by Michele Wells

On April 20, from 4-5.30 pm, Michele Wells will shed new light on the Medieval Dutch morality play Elckerlijc—performed in 1496 at the Antwerp Landjuweel—and the play’s argument for confession in the context of the rise of the use of plenary indulgences in the process of colonization in the pre-reformation era. These indulgences bolstered the wealth of Antwerp which was the wealthiest city in Europe at the time of Elckerlijc’s performance. Wells will also compare the Antwerp print with the English 1525 translation Everyman and describe how the translation obscures the argument in the original text regarding confession. Her talk will conclude by discussing Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins 2017 adaptation Everybody, which targets Whiteness to reveal the theatricality of race and presented race as a structure that must be dismantled for true redemption to take place, and the 2020 Stanford TAPS’s production of Everybody, in which Wells herself played the character of “Love”.

Wells holds a Master in Theater and Performance Studies from Stanford University (2021) and is the founder of Theater for Humanity (2014), which facilitates reconciliation in response to the conflict between police officers and formerly incarcerated persons. In both her research and theater practice, she examines the intersection of theater and reconciliation across history with a focus on the lives of 15th Century dramatic and religious texts. In the Fall of 2022, she will join the Department of History at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven).

Members’ meeting and lecture by Em. Prof. Johan Callens — Nov. 30, 4-6 pm

As we announced earlier this academic year, we will have a members’ meeting on November 30, from 4-5 pm. All are welcome—we are excited to hear your ideas for our research group! Thereafter, from 5-6 pm, we invite you to Em. Prof. Johan Callens’ lecture, titled “Reiterating The Wooster Group’s Re-Enactments: The Town Hall Affair”. Please circulate our poster to anyone who might be interested.

The meeting and lecture will both be held in the Blandijn building, in the Faculty Room, which is located on the first floor, right across the staircase. In line with new COVID-19 recommendations and regulations, masks are mandatory in the building.

We hope to see many of you there!

Report workshop ‘Revisiting Revenge. New Perspectives for the Study of Revenge Tragedies (late 16th–early 18th century)’

16-17 September 2021, Ghent University

by Caroline Baetens

The conference workshop ‘Revisiting Revenge’ was initiated by the research groups THALIA and GEMS and organized by their members Tom Laureys, Kornee van der Haven and Jürgen Pietersin the context of a BOF-funded research project Radical Revenge? Revenge tragedy and providential thinking in the Dutch Republic 1638-1678. The workshop was furthermore related to a project about violence and the spectacular in the Netherlands between 1630 and 1690 (ITEMP). The workshop took place on the 16th and 17th of September 2021 at Ghent University’s Faculty of Arts and Philosophy. Although most speakers gave their presentation in the auditorium, considering the current pandemic participants were also able to give and follow lectures online, making it a hybrid conference.

As revenge plays traditionally have been assigned a secondary role in literary and early modern studies, this conference aimed to demonstrate the genre’s broader cultural relevance. Scholars came together to discuss how early modern European revenge plays participated in contemporary political, religious, philosophical, legal, economic and gender discourses. Questions ranged from ‘how does the genre of revenge tragedies position itself against the biblical tenet against personal revenge?’ to ‘what is the relationship between revenge and gender?’. Sixteen lectures were therefore divided into five sessions based on the speakers’ focus on gender, politics, the passions, the history of ideas or religion. Two keynote presentations by Prof. Russ Leo and Prof. Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly completed the program and brought together the different aspects of revenge tragedy. 

  1. Revenge tragedy and gender

During the first session, lecturers focused on the role of gender in revenge displayed on the scene. The function and impact of the avenging characters’ gender in the planning and the execution of revenge was further analyzed. Female and male avenging characters were compared to create a deeper understanding of the masculine and feminine gender roles in revenge tragedies and, by extension, in the early modern society.

Not only the two dominant gender identities were discussed; Karoline Baumann also noticed hybrid, ambiguous and fluent gender performances in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Coriolanus. Among other characters, the ‘wayward sisters’ were named to illustrate this gender-bending. The complex gender expression of the avenging characters of these plays simultaneously demonstrates Shakespeare’s belief in a fixed gender role and an awareness that not all people fit those predetermined classifications.

One of the recurring topics and ideas during the lectures and discussions of this session was women’s agency and power, and its ambiguous depiction in revenge tragedies. In analyzing the effect of the rape and mutilation of Lavinia in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Mohammadreza Hassanzadeh Javanian observed a renewed authority in the silent presence of the violated Lavinia on stage. Nonetheless the dominant gaze of the male characters and the public on the victim creates a complex dynamic of power and authority in the patriarchal world on and off stage. Adam Hansen further analyzed how female characters appropriate this male power of gazing in Thomas Middleton and William Rowley’s The Changeling to create their own authority. He related the 17th century’s scientific breakthroughs in the understanding of the eye and vision to the way in which vision and vengeance are related in this play.

Merel Waeyaert closed the session with a paper about the mythological references in the speech and characterization of Juliane in Geeraardt Brandt’s De veinzende Torquatus. Just as in the earlier presentation of Mohammadreza Hassanzadeh Javanian, the literary trope of a vengeance over a rape victim was the topic of Merel Waeyaerts lecture. During the play, Juliane is associated with the mythological figures of Lucretia, Media, the Furies and Nemesis creating a threefold evolution in her characterization which creates new meaning to her vengeance.

  • Revenge tragedy and politics

The second session examined the way in which revenge tragedies the interaction between revenge tragedies and the contemporary. Central questions were ‘in what way does revenge tragedies reflect on national traumas?’ and ‘how does the genre adopt a position in the political debates such as the one about sovereignty of the national leader?’. The discrepancy between not only private and public, but also irrational and rational revenge were already introduced during the first session but got further investigation within the following two lectures by Marco Prandoni and Isabel von Holt.

Both scholars discussed revenge in genres that were not traditionally considered to be revenge plays: Dutch historical plays and German Baroque Trauerspiel or mourning plays. Marco focused on the Floris V-plays and Vondel’s Gysbrecht van Aemstel, while Isabel talked about the first and second version of Gryphius’s Carolus Stuardus and Von Lohenstein’s Agrippina. In his presentation, Marco revealed the different conceptualizations and functions of revenge, vengeance, and divine providence in four plays about the conspiracy against and death of count Floris V. Isabel illustrated the ambiguity in the self-description of the allegorical personification of Revenge. Revenge is seen as both a rational, righteous, even divine, punishment, and as an irrational, vicious desire or thirst for violence.

  • Revenge tragedy and the passions

The following lectures by Vanessa Lim and Kornee van der Haven investigated the relation between revenge and the passions. This session questioned how internal thoughts, desires and passions relate to revenge and how they help shape the revenge portrayed in the tragedies. Furthermore, relations between internal contemplations on and external acts of revenge, and between rational thought and irrational desire, were examined.

Vanessa Lim discussed the rhetorical strategies of deliberation in Shakespeare’s Hamlet to demonstrate its central role in deciding on revenge.Hamlet’s doubt and contemplation both demonstrate how he verbally attempts to turn himself into an avenger and encourage the spectators to ask themselves the same questions about retribution. The play gives early modern public and modern scholars an example of the Renaissance’s ideal of rhetorical deliberation.

These internal thoughts and desires were further analyzed in Kornee van der Havens paper about revenge in the neoclassical poetics and practice. By analyzing the tragedies of Claas Bruin, he demonstrated how the neoclassical decorum does not result in a complete lack of revenge on scene, but in an internalization of the revenge and a concentration on the underlying passions and desires.

  • Revenge tragedy and the history of ideas

During the fourth session David Manning, Yağmur Tatar, Caitlín Rankin-McCabe and Anne-Valérie Dulac discussed revenge in its relation to the history of ideas. Early modern revenge tragedy was used as a tool to reconstruct contemporary intellectual thought and imagery, such as fashion and afterlife. The central question of this session could be summarized as ‘how was revenge given shape in philosophical and religious thought and discourse, and how did literature and theatre reflect or divert from these conceptions?’.

In his presentation about Behn’s Abdelazar, or The Moor’s Revenge, historian David Manning emphasised the importance of historical contextualization of early modern texts. He approached the play from a historian’s standpoint to reconstruct the tragedy’s meaning of the past, opposing modern literary interpretations and what he considered as anachronistic classifications of the play as a ‘slave narrative’. By doing this, he sparked a discussion about the importance of modern interpretation and historical contextualization in literary studies.

Yağmur Tatar used Bakhtin’s definition of the carnivalesque to describe revenge in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. She examined how the carnivalesque and saturnalian imagery, such as food, disease, and animals, are related to the revenge of the plebeians on Coriolanus, and, conversely, of Coriolanus on the people of Rome. By examining this carnivalesque in not only Shakespeare’s, but also his contemporaries’, works, we could obtain a better understanding of the carnivalesque in the Renaissance.

Caitlín Rankin-McCabe analysed the ambiguous nature of figures that stand between life and death in four different plays: ghosts and spirits in Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Julius Caesar, the character Revenge in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, and Andrugio in John Marston’s Antonio’s Revenge. The protagonists’ doubt about their either holy or infernal nature makes the public question their belief in and image of the supernatural and afterlife.

The session about the history of ideas was closed with a paper by Anne-Valérie Dulac about fabrics, textiles, and fashions in Webster’s Jacobean revenge tragedy The Duchess of Malfi. The characters’ costumes and verbal references to their clothes could tell us something more about the Jacobean concern with changing fashions.

  • Revenge tragedy and religion

The last four lectures of the workshop revolved around revenge and religion. Scholars explored early modern revenge tragedies’ reflection on and response to Christian discourse and debate on revenge. The reflections on and representations of divine providence and the biblical message of divine retribution were sought in early modern revenge tragedy.

Tragedies related to the different branches of Christianity were furthermore compared to create a better understanding of the conceptualizations and moral connotations of revenge. Aiming for such an understanding of the variation of Christian revenge, Anne G. Graham compared a French protestant and Catholic biblical play: Robert Garnier’s Les Juifves and Théodore de Bèze’s Abraham sacrifiant. The plays illustrate trust in the divine providence, but also demonstrate God’s capacity of violence while taking vengeance.

The relation between justice and revenge in a Christian setting was discussed by Sarah Fengler during her presentation about Racine’s Christian school play Athalie. By analyzing the different narratives of revenge in the play and examining the religious and political justifications for revenge made by the character Joad, she showed how conflicting Christian morals and ideas on revenge are represented in revenge tragedies.

The Christian morals were furthermore discussed by Dinah Wouters. In her study of Joseph plays she noticed a sudden presence of revenge in the Jesuit school plays after 1600. While Joseph plays mostly focus on justice and forgiveness, in Latin school plays revenge is interwoven in both the main and sub-plot: Joseph considers revenge instead of immediately choosing forgiveness.

Tom Laureys’s chosen subject for his closing lecture was the representation of seventeenth-century theological discussions and debates in revenge. He discussed how excessive violence on stage confronts the theatre audiences with the discussions surrounding the existence of evil and God’s responsibility for this evil.

  • Revenge tragedy in all its aspects

The keynote lectures by Russ Leo and Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly brought together the different themes and topics surrounding revenge tragedy discussed by the other scholars. Russ Leo’s discussion of Oudaen’s Servetus, a play about an executed heretic,did not only tap into religious discourses of collegian and anti-trinitarian movements, but was also closely related to contemporary political issues. As a reproduction of historical events, the analyzed play feels like a documentary drama.

Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly noticed the variation in the Christian concept of revenge by observing and comparing three Protestant and one Catholic revenge play. Her lecture revealed different concepts and motivations of revenge, depending on the Christian confession involved.  but also drew a comparison between private and public revenge. The operatic firework drama in Italian, performed in Munich for the baptism of the son of Ferdinand Maria of Bavaria and Henriette Adelaïde of Savoy, depicted a Senecan Medea at war with the gods and with the cosmos which ended with a tableau of Christian salvation as embodied by the Elector of Bavaria and his son. She contrasted this work with three Protestant plays in which God intervenes to punish human sin and error. These plays exemplify the biblical statement: ‘Revenge is mine saith the Lord’.Both keynote speakers paid close attention to performativity, theatricality, and the practical side of staging revenge tragedies. Russ Leo shed light on the risk, the effect and reaction of unbelievable and unrealistic spectacle in the Senecan plays. Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly furthermore discussed costumes, staging and decor to illustrate the spectacularism of the Munich firework drama.  She, moreover, related early modern visualisations of the allegorical figure of Revenge to such sources as emblem books and iconology.

Although presentations were divided into five sessions, topics and discussions overstepped the boundaries of the different thematic groups: literary tropes like vengeance for a chaste rape victim, allusions to the nation and sovereignty, mythological references, the ambiguity of revenge and the oppositions between private and public, irrational and rational, human and divine, unjust and just revenge, were interwoven in all the sessions and discussions. During the question rounds scholars were furthermore challenged to approach their primary texts with other frameworks related to the other sessions.

The choice to discuss early modern revenge tragedy from a pan-European perspective led to a broad variation in approaches, topics, and texts. Firstly, a historian’s perspective on and approach to literature complemented the literary scholars’ presentations. Furthermore, national differences in the literary conventions surrounding revenge tragedy were noticed and the causes for the dissimilarities were sought; for example, the harshness of the German theatre in comparison to the English or Dutch tradition may be related to their educational and moral function or lack thereof. Moreover, not only plays traditionally conceived as revenge tragedies were topics of discussion, but different genres and theatrical aspects were presented. Lastly, during most presentations there was attention for visual and material sources, such as the image of Revenge as a personification and the costumery.