Although the plays performed at the Amsterdamse Schouwburg (the Amsterdam Theater) in the seventeenth century were overwhelmingly written by men, three Dutch women saw their translations of plays from Spanish and French produced. This presentation will discuss three of these plays, each of which represents a landmark event in the history of women’s writing for the stage: Catherina Verwers’s The Spanish Pagan (1644), based on a story by Cervantes, was the first play by a woman writer performed on the Dutch stage. Catharina Questiers’s second play Casimir, or Pride Subdued (1656) was the first Dutch play by a woman in which a woman acted the part of the lead. Katharina Lescailje’s Genserik (1685), a translation of a play by Madame Deshoulieres, was the first female-authored translation of a play by another woman. This presentation treats these plays as complex female interventions in a public arena dominated by men. Specifically, I will situate these plays in relation to two interrelated developments: the transition from a traditional to a modern understanding of public and private and the emergence of a public sphere.
The instability of conceptions of public and private in the seventeenth century was particularly important to women. Their central place in the new ideology of domesticity meant that by the end of the century, they were increasingly excluded from the public sphere. In light of the emergence of a public sphere and the increasing conceptual separation of public and private spheres, I examine these plays for how they situate both the authors and the female characters in the plays publicly. All three plays imagine virtuous females in the public eye, but position them in the context of nostalgic representations of a single-ruler system and a pre-public sphere within which they can play certain specific, conventional roles. While the plays themselves do not situate women in a modern public sphere, they nonetheless represent female contributions to the Dutch debates on the place of women in a rapidly changing society.
Martine van Elk, a graduate of the University of Amsterdam and Rice University, is currently Professor of English Literature at California State University Long Beach. She is the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters on Shakespeare, vagrancy, and early modern women writers in publications such as Shakespeare Quarterly and Studies in English Literature, as well as a chapter on Terence in early modern England for Blackwell’s Companion to Terence (2013). She edited Gammer Gurton’s Needle for Broadview’s new Anthology of Medieval Drama (2012) and is co-editor of a collection of essays entitled Tudor Drama Before Shakespeare, 1485-1590 (Palgrave 2004). She is currently working on a book-length comparative study of English and Dutch women writers of the seventeenth century. Her recent publications on emblem books and friendship poetry, which include discussions of the writings of Anna Roemers Visscher, Katharina Lescailje, and Cornelia van der Veer are part of this research.