The Plays

Spelen van zinne, literally "plays of the mind" but more often translated as "plays of meaning" or "theme plays" always had a didactic message at their heart. Plays might approach their subject matter either seriously or humorously. The most famous Rederijker play, Elckerlyc is better known by the name give to its English translation, Everyman. For many years the Dutch versus English origin of this play was hotly debated. However the matter was settled fairly well in 1939 when E.R. Twigg pointed out the way the English version has to add superfluous words and phrases to preserve the rhyme scheme established in the Dutch version as in the following:

Wilt mi vergheven mijn mesdade,
Want ic begheer aen u ghenade.

Forgyve me my gervous offence
Here I crye thy mercy in this presence.


Heir in desen aertschen leven
Die heylighe sacramenten seven.

Here in this transitory lyfe for thee and me
The blessed sacraments seven there be.

Elckerlyc won first prize in an Antwerp landjuweel around the year 1485. It is a highly allegorical and chronicles the journey of a character named "Everyman" through various personified temptations until he is eventually saved by the character Virtue.

The play perfectly illustrates the typical Rederijker approach to the audience that George Kernodle describes in "From Art to Theatre". He draws a comparison between the way street theatres had sometimes changed direct address to an honored noble into an action with a character on stage representing that person to the way that the creators of spelen van zinne instead of directing a sermon to the audience, metaphorically brought the audience on the stage in the form of characters named "Youth," or "Most Men," or "Mankind," or in the case of Elckerlyc, "Everyman." The dramatist provided an advisor for the audience stand-in, usually in the form of a character with a name like "Spiritual Understanding," who would, via a show-facade at the back of the stage, reveal a series of tableaux to prove the play's argument. Plays of this type tended to involve very little real action. They were closer to what Kernodle aptly terms "illustrated lectures in dialogue." There is even some debate among researchers as to the extent to which painted backdrops were substituted for live performers in non-speaking tableaux.

However, Everyman was not "everyplay." Click below for some contrasting examples of spelen van zinne:

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Copyright 1997 Kelly S. Taylor