The Transnational Impact of Latin Theatre from the Early Modern Netherlands


Transnational Drama within and beyond Europe, 1450-1750




Early modern drama research is done on an increasingly large scale. On the one hand, this is the result of the use of computational research methods and the expansion of online resources for the study of drama. On the other hand, the larger scale is the result of scholars making connections between fields that were previously separated. These new approaches increasingly take into account colonial drama and drama written by Jesuit missions, as well as the transnational movements of theatre texts and practices across national, linguistic, and confessional borders. Mobility and circulation can be studied on a small scale, but the accumulative effect of these studies is a view of early modern drama that extends over a large portion of the world map and that begins to create a global picture. What new skills do scholars apply in order to tackle these changing scales of research?

The presentations focus on:

  • the integration of computational and non-computational methods;
  • the connections between different national traditions and languages, including Latin: circulation, mobility, transnationality;
  • the connections between the local and the supralocal;
  • the integration of large-scale and small-scale research methods;
  • the integration of various databases, resources, and data formats;
  • the relationship between the different research fields for early modern drama: literature, performance, cultural history, etc.

The conference will take place in hybrid format, on location in Amsterdam with the possibility of following, contributing, and interacting with the other participants online.

Organising committee: Dinah Wouters, postdoctoral researcher, Jan Bloemendal, senior researcher and PI TransLatin

About the Project: This conference is organised within the scope of the TransLatin project ( of the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands, which forms part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The project studies the international network of Netherlandish Neo-Latin playwrights and the vital interaction between Latin theatre and a ‘transnational’ web of plays, through computational analysis and a qualitative investigation of sources.

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All sessions take place at the University Theatre, Nieuwe Doelenstraat 16-18, Amsterdam, and via videoconferencing. If you want to participate online, please register and we will send you the necessary information.

If you would like to tweet about the conference, we would be pleased if you would use the hashtag #Translatin2022.

Thursday 1st of September

09.30 – 09.45 Registration

09.45 – 10.00 Introduction

10.00 – 11.00 KEYNOTE (chair: Jan Bloemendal)

Early modern ‘transnational’ drama cannot be understood as the interaction of any two literary traditions, each belonging respectively to the vernacular expression and culture of a given state. It is properly understood as the coming together of several traditions, texts, properties and players from different places, whether the plays themselves, or other kinds of acting, were being performed only in one place or region or rendered by traveling companies that crossed borders. Neither were such companies wholly made up of personnel from one country, but over time incorporated players from different places just as they filtered and refined plays and performance customs from different places. This complex field of transnational activity was set within the broader context of global geopolitical realities in the early modern world, from the persistence of Asian and African empires and the rise of west European nation states and their colonial/imperial global rivalry with each other to the impact of contact between these places, not least the rapid transit or migration of people to places very far from their countries of birth.

I’ll investigate the evolving political role of tragedy in the traveling theater companies of northern Europe and in the context of the changing nature of urban, religious, court and academic drama at this time. I’m interested in the persistence of violent spectacle in plays and performances despite ethical and aesthetic objection in drama criticism and theory, and the role of traveling theater in transmitting political thought (such as ideas of sovereignty and the relationship between resistance and revenge) as well as international news. This history can be projected on a global plane, as drama in, for instance, north Africa, Sri Lanka, China and Japan, commented upon arriving Europeans and was transformed by this context, in addition to instances of theater as a colonial and religious instrument of control and/or conversion. Is comedy as opposed to tragedy a more responsive vehicle for registering the profound global changes of this era?

My theatrical examples largely come from the Netherlands, England, the German-speaking world and Portugal, but with some outreach to Spanish, French and Italian contexts, and the global dimensions of all these places. I’m strongly in favor of the use of digital technology in the humanities and welcome insights into how it might be used in the future study of the transnational (drama and theater) field, and as it addresses the content of this lecture.

11.00-12.30 SESSION 1 Presentation of the TransLatin project (Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands—Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences)

12.30 – 14.00 LUNCH

14.00 – 15.00 KEYNOTE (chair: Dinah Wouters)

It is well known that digital editions allow new perspectives on the literary texts, based on the multiple affordances of computer code and screens. This argument has been repeatedly made by several scholars who have reflected upon the matter (McGann, 2001; Robinson, 2013; Driscoll and Pierazzo, 2016, etc.). However, digital editions still seem to remain modeled by the practices acquired when preparing printed texts. On the one hand, this is important and natural, since digital humanities repeatedly claim they continue the work of humanities, in a digital form (Terras, 2013). On the other hand, this may impede new reading and researches, especially when studying theatrical texts in a transnational context, and on a larger scale.

In this talk, I will reflect upon how we can collectively renew the digital editing of dramas. On the one hand, this renewal can already be seen at work in various drama publishing projects, such as DraCor (, or my own Boissy collection (Nakala ID :10.34847/nkl.71c7gt5x). For instance, the very constraint of rigorously encoding all characters in a play leads to the creation of a <listPerson>, duplicating to a certain extent the <castList>, but also completing and expanding it to all forgotten or complementary characters intervening in more or less decisive ways in a play. Printed editions are reluctant or at a loss about how to include such information in the liminal matter, and in many cases just leave it aside. On the other hand, we still seem to be shy in front of the numerous possibilities offered by the digital medium. Taking as a case study the treatment of stage directions, I will call to imagining scholarly editions that display both explicit and implicit unit of this kind, thus engaging scholar’s scientific responsibility in new ways.

The more general question here is to what extent the sheer variety of theatrical texts can be tamed in new ways in the digital format. A simple task such as indicating the age of the characters appears not so easy when trying to conceive a framework applicable as well to late medieval texts and to modern French drama. Protocols elaborated by the printing tradition, that leave aside such indications and delegate to the reader such tasks, appeal in these cases, as they are safer. Printed practices for theatrical texts have indeed managed to reach, over time, a consensus about what is drama and how it can be accurately represented on a page. However, if digital studies are to take stock not only of the rapid development of various parsing tools, but also of the human intelligence and sensibility, we need to rethinking scholarly editions of drama instead of simply reproducing traditional practices in a digital format.

15.00 – 16.30 SESSION 2 Digital editing (chair: Radhika Koul)

I am interested in editing Jesuit tragedies and consequently in having manuscript and print sources available online. I do not think the result of studying is different: a critical edition is a critical edition, but digitization, online availability, computational methods simplified the path to that. I have experienced studying manuscripts remediated via microfilms. So, I can say how it is different and surprising to have a digital image of manuscripts and print editions available.

Sometimes, confrontation between print editions and manuscript sources is crucial. For example, in Flavia by Bernardinus Shephonius a scene was removed due to a rule of the Ratio Studiorum. A confrontation between the print edition and a manuscript made me able to find out the way the playwright took: digitization made that simpler and quicker. The same is for looking at manuscripts whose hand is hard to read: a click on zoom and words and letters open to interpretation become correctly read.

I would like to speak about a project of the Historical Archive of Gregorian University in which I am engaged too: Jesuit Drama. Summarizing: it is going to be available online a bibliography about the subject and a census of Jesuit theatre manuscripts extant in the Gregorian Archive and in the National Library at Rome. Logging in, scholars can participate in the project.

Theatrical manuscripts will be digitalized and made available online. It will be after a restoration of those. In fact, a manuscript is not a text only which scholars are interested in. The Gregorian Archive looks upon codices as precious objects, so, it tries to prevent and possibly reverse damage due to handling, quality of paper, iron gall ink and so on. There is a risk of forgetting that converting paper codices to digital file formats.

The life of Stanislaus Kostka (1550–1568), a Polish Jesuit novice beatified in 1605 and canonized in 1726, was a popular topic of Neo-Latin school plays across Europe. How should a corpus of these plays be assembled and prepared for analysis and comparison, especially in a digital format? What steps should we undertake, beginning with a digital facsimile of old printed books or manuscripts, to enable research of vocabulary and style, metre, motifs, dramatic structure? What tools and methods should we use, what to encode in the corpus and how, how to ensure its citability, its preservation, findability (make the corpus easy to find) and discoverability (make it easy to find even by people who do not know that it exists), its further use? I will discuss these questions and demonstrate some answers on a small set of Latin plays about Stanislaus Kostka in various stages of digitization and encoding: a play written in Rome around 1652 by a Jesuit from Dubrovnik (published posthumously in 1709), two Czech plays preserved in manuscripts (from 1689 and 1745) and two Austrian plays published in books (in 1730 and 1743).

We propose to study a series of dramatic texts inspired by the figure of saint Polyeuctus of Melitene (+259), initiated by a Jesuit writer, Girolamo Bartolomei (1584-1662) and his Polietto, tragedia sacra (1632). Tragedies based on the Armenian martyr’s story was represented in several countries between 16th and 18th century (especially in Italy, France, Germany and Poland), both in the public theaters (Polyeucte by Pierre Corneille, an author strongly attached to Jesuit tradition) and on the college stages, run by various religious orders. The above-mentioned group of texts may be therefore an illustration of a wider phenomenon, which is the European circulation of artistic themes and forms previously adapted by the Jesuit order.

The number and dispersion of texts make the tragedies about Polyeuctus a good starting point for reflection on the state and methods of contemporary primary sources research in the field of 16th-18th century drama. By combining information from printed bibliographies and internet resources with some elements of provenance research, we will try to reevaluate the legacy of positivist history of literature and textual studies. Above all, we want to explore the question of an uneven distribution of visibility between different texts based on the same narrative material. If some criteria of literary visibility/invisibility are well known (author’s reputation, language, “central” or “peripheric” position of some schools and literary idioms etc.), the others – proper to 16th-18th century drama – still need to be examined. We would like to initiate this discussion by putting in a broader European context two forgotten Polish tragedies about Polyeuctus, written in close time proximity in mid-18th century Warsaw: an anonymous Jesuit Felix amicitia in latin (1747) and a Piarist translation of Corneille’s Polyeucte in polish verse (1753).

16.30 – 17.00 Break

17.00 – 18.00 SESSION 3 Performance and visual sources (chair: James A. Parente)

Although specialists studying evidence relating to drama in early modern Europe have a wide range of different documents and artefacts at their disposal, overwhelmingly, they focus on textual sources. This approach becomes challenging in the context of early modern itinerant performances associated with the Italian commedia dell’arte in Mediterranean Europe or English comedians in the Baltic and German-speaking regions. Relying heavily on improvisation, brief scenarios, clowning and spectacle, their troupes left few fully recorded dramatic texts. The commedia dell’arte has inspired an immensely rich iconography; despite their sparse visual record, the perceived “iconographical blackout”[1] of the English troupes urgently requires revision. Even so, most secondary literature draws on the same limited pool of images relating to these transnational performers, only exceptionally adding new visual sources or approaches to them.

Research into methodologies for identifying and analysing the bulk of the hugely informative iconographic record, and for integrating these findings into mainstream theatre-historical enquiries, remains neglected. Why?

  • theatre history is a text-based discipline: many specialists have little or no art-historical training or knowledge.
  • theatre-related images are undervalued and under-researched by an art-historical discipline which promotes artistic prestige, monetary value and portability /ease of resale at the expense of documentary importance
  • many key images remain unidentified or inaccessible; in private ownership, lost or destroyed.
  • These images are never photographic “snap shots”(!); developing effective methodologies for interpreting them with respect to performative events is challenging and requires specialist methodologies.

My presentation will focus on methodologies for identifying and interpreting the visual record with reference to an overview of the field and three case studies centred on under-researched early modern Netherlandish images.

[1] Christopher Balme, “Interpreting the pictorial record”, Theatre research international 22.3, 190-201: 194.

Le Ballet des Polonais, the very first ballet de cour, was performed on August, 19th 1573 in tandem with music, decor and costume. It was organized in Paris on the occasion of the visit of the Polish ambassadors to Henry III, duke of Anjou. The spectacle was held in a temporary structure in the Palais des Tuileries witha fireworks show. Choreographed by Balthasar de Beaujoyeulx, it was featured as a dance for sixteen women, dames de la cour, who represented the provinces of France. Roland de Lassus composed the music, which was performed with a large orchestra.  However, the Polish ambassadors did not speak French, so Jean Dorat published the booklet with the French as well as the Latin text of the ballet. It also contained all necessary explanations. A detailed literary description of the performance was later on prepared by Pierre de Bourdeille, called Brantome and the graphic one was drawn by Antoine Caron. The famous Valois Tapestries may also serve as the illustration of the ballet. Most of the above-mentioned elements are accessible on-line, but in various data formats and from different sources.

In my presentation I’d like to focus on two elements of the ballet. First, I’d like to discuss how to integrate in the study the relationship between the different research fields for this kind of drama: literature, performance, cultural history, music as well as the visual tradition. Then, I’d like to propose the integration of different sources of knowledge about this event with a special emphasis on the interconnection between national traditions and languages. Digital tools can be specifically useful here, allowing to combine the various sources in a meaningful way for a better understanding of this performance.

19.00 Conference dinner

Friday 2nd of September

09.30 – 10.30 KEYNOTE (chair: Dinah Wouters)

Hispanic classical theatre offers a particularly varied range of perspectives on gender. This essay charts the historical conditions of early modern theatrical practice in the Hispanic world, and surveys some of the dramatic texts that best evince its affordances for the representation of gender. As I argue throughout, these plays foreground both the constructedness of gender and its performativity. In recent productions and reworkings, directors, adapters, and translators in Spain and beyond have identified the complex positionalities in early modern Hispanic plays, reading them with new attention to their possibilities. Their readings productively complicate our understanding of the early modern gender system and its multiplicity, revealing a variegated and nuanced landscape. 

10.30 – 12.00 SESSION 4 Drama in circulation (chair: Robin Buning)

In the line of Seneca’s famous tragedy Troades, several early modern tragedies have taken up and re-created the theme of the unhappy fate of the Trojan women after the destruction of Troy (as anticipated in Homer’s Iliad). In the proposed paper, I would like to investigate a sample of these dramatic adaptations and to retrace the ways in which they explore the dramatic and aesthetic potentials enclosed in this thematic constellation. Against the back­ground of the remarkably rich and favorable reception of Seneca’s Troades in neo-Latin literature and theatre, the proposed study will concentrate on three early modern vernacular adaptations: La Troade (1579) by Robert Garnier, the German drama Die Troerinnen (1625), a translation and adaptation by Martin Opitz, and the tragedy Andromache (1667) by the French poet and dramatist Jean Racine, which is a more or less independent re-creation of the subject, probably more indebted to the Euripidean model than to Seneca. By elaborating their adaptations, these early modern playwrights aim at transmitting a work which had already achieved paradigmatic relevance in neo-Latin humanist culture to a wider vernacular reading public. The proposed contribution seeks to understand how these plays while renewing with the tradition of humanism at the same time respond to the expectations and appeal to the tastes of early modern readers and theatergoers.

With regard to the methodological approach, my contribution will mostly draw on traditional approaches, in particular reception studies and translation studies while at the same time paying attention to theatrical representation.

In 1622 an anonymous news writer beseeched divine providence and the ears of Europe for moral justice, that the massacres and persecutions of the onset of what would become the Thirty Years War ”cannot be hid from the eares of the World”. As Brendan Dooley has demonstrated, the vast movement of ‘news’ created the sensation of contemporaneity, the illusion of events happening in a shared European present. This information would subsequently permeate through every echelon of Europe’s public sphere(s), from the subject cheap printed news pamphlets, discussed in sermons, satarised in ballads, resplendent in images, and vitally, to be synthesised into plays to be acted upon the stage. It is little coincidence that in 1622, the French polemicist François Fancan begged his readers to consider ”the Tragedies that are acted upon the Theatre of this World”.

Reconstructing the movement of news of the Thirty Years War into plays on the European stage is of course fraught with difficulty. This paper proposes to explore these difficulties and opportunities. Although the vast databases Early European Books Online as the Universal Short Title Catalogue provide invaluable resources to chart how some of the most traumatic events of the 17th century were echoed, debated and acted upon the stage, the picture is incomplete. Plays are hidden away in manuscript across Europe. Furthermore, taking Michael Baxandall’s concept of a period eye, of the experience and knowledge an individual in a specific context brings to understanding culture, how accessible are a plays metaphorical language, the satirical illusions and references to a momentous present? What was censored for commentary upon political events? This paper considers early Stuart transnational drama, Middleton’s A Game at Chess, Massinger’s Unnatural Combat alongside an anonymous 1622 manuscript, a Spanish satire on a Europe descending into war, found in Florence.

The presentation will be divided into two parts. First, I will introduce the research program “L’Invention du Théâtre Antique dans le Corpus des paratextes savants du XVIe s. : analyse, traduction, edition numérique” (The Invention of Antique Theatre in the Corpus of Learned Paratexts of the 16th Century: Analysis, Translation, Numerical Edition) led by the Lyon and Grenoble universities and financed by the French “Agence Nationale de la Recherche”. The purpose will be to define the aims and the methodology of this teamwork which consists of publishing online, translating into French and analysing the Latin and Greek paratexts that are attached to the different publications of ancient comedies and tragedies in modern Europe. In the second part of our presentation, we would like to show the first results of the research which was more specifically focused on the publications of Plautus’ comedies, from the 1472 Venetian princeps to the Taubman’s great publication of 1605: which was the geography of their circulation on a European level, which human networks were involved, and which speeches on Plautus and on ancient theatre were formed in the paratexts?

12.00 – 13.30 Lunch

13.30 – 14.30 KEYNOTE (chair: Jan Bloemendal)

Research within Computational Literary Studies usually focuses on corpora as a whole in order to make statements about entire œuvres or literary epochs. Using the example of DraCor, the digital platform for the study of European drama, the keynote will explore how community annotations can be used to generate smart data that can shed light on smaller aspects, such as individual dramatic characters, and do so cross-lingually.

14.30 – 16.00 SESSION 5 Networks (chair: Andrea Peverelli)

During the last twenty years, the proliferation of online resources, databases, and computational tools for the study of the past has expanded the field of comparative literature and enabled researchers working from different latitudes to have a wider and different outlook of the national narratives on which the history of literature is built. One of the most revisited chapters has been that of the relationship between England, Spain, and their former colonies. A reassessing of the literary connections between these two Imperial rivals has taken place thanks to the possibility of accessing hitherto overlooked sources and “minor” pieces of writing. By bringing attention to different modes of translation scholars such as Barbara Fuchs and J.A. Garrido Ardila have challenged neatly drawn boundaries and provided new and refreshing insights into the understanding of the literature of both nations. There is a growing interest in the way English poets and playwrights appropriated Spanish sources before, during, and after the English Civil War. The tools that we have nowadays allow us to have a more complex understanding of how Spanish literary materials moved across the island. How did Spanish texts circulate within literary networks and how did circulation change with the advent of the English Civil War? What underlying political principles might be read into the explicit aims expressed in many of the paratexts that frame Spanish or Spanish-oriented works? How can computational tools and scholarly dialogue allow us to identify these networks and what can we learn from them? This paper will focus on the case study of Francis Beaumont’s and John Fletcher’s 1647 folio of their Comedies and Tragedies. This particular folio, composed of thirty-five plays of which fourteen have links to Spanish sources, is an interesting case in that it offers insight into some of the networks that enabled the circulation of Spanish sources and allows us to understand how translation (across languages, genres, and nations) was understood as a political enterprise.

This paper will take as its point of departure a computationally assisted social network analysis of 20 English prodigal son plays (1590-1640). The study was done in collaboration with my colleague Ross Deans Kristensen-McLachlan and published in 2021 (details in bio). I will briefly present the main findings of the study and if time permits give a couple of more recent examples from our current work on a book about the social networks in Shakespeare’s plays. However, the greater part of my talk I will spend discussing three key methodological issues involved in our work. First of all: What does it mean to formalize drama as a social network; what methodological choices are involved in constructing the networks, and what heuristic value might they have for scholars of early modern drama? Secondly, the question of scale: Social network analysis can be applied to singular dramatic texts but can also work on medium-sized and large text corpora. What are the analytical pros and cons of working on these different scales? And thirdly, the question of integration with more conventional qualitative methods. How might we combine social network analysis of dramatic texts with close reading and historical contextualization?

This paper deals with the question of how we can use digital methods to analyse character types on a larger scale and across different languages and drama corpora. First, I will introduce the Drama Corpora Infrastructure (DraCor) with a focus on the Roman Drama Corpus (RomDraCor). The Application Programming Interface of DraCor enables users to extract certain parts of or information about drama texts within the DraCor. For instance, you can do research on the hierarchy of character types in terms of the respective number of spoken words or analyse which word fields are characteristic for a certain character type. One of the key features of the DraCor is the generation of network data. All characters of a drama build a network which is based on co-occurrences. Hence, we can adapt sociological methods when analysing these dramatic networks. In the second part of the talk, I will show how we can use network data to trace specific character types in Roman comedy and its reception. Exemplarily, I will outline data trends for the type of the schemer in Roman, Neo-Latin, English, French, and German drama.

16.00 – 16.45 Concluding remarks. James A. Parente (University of Minnesota) ONLINE

16.45 – 18.30 Reception