Esther in the Drama of the Early Modern Low Countries


  • Wim Husken retired



Even though topics from the Hebrew Bible abound in the sixteenth-century drama of the Low Countries written in the vernacular, the character of Esther does not appear on stage in the Dutch language before the start of the seventeenth century. Neo-Latin plays on Esther did, however, precede them. In this article I will concentrate on four plays, written by Dutch and Flemish dramatists. The first is a neo-Latin play: Tragoedia Esther sive Edissa, written in 1544 by Petrus Philicinus and printed in 1563. I will subsequently discuss three vernacular plays about Esther: an anonymous play entitled Hester en Assverus from the town of Hasselt, probably written before 1615; Nicolaas Fonteyn’s Esther, ofte ’t Beeldt der Ghehoorsaamheid from 1637; and Joris Berckmans’s “happy-ending tragedy” Edissa from 1649. In discussing these plays, I will focus on the way in which the character of Esther was portrayed. In Philicinus’s play Esther is depicted as a mediatrix between the Jewish people and the Persians, yet at the same time fully aware of the dangers she may inflict upon herself. The Hasselt play and the play by Berckmans demonstrate Esther’s loyalty towards Ahasuerus. These two plays contrast her sweet and obedient character to Vasthi’s less sympathetic attitude towards the king. Fonteyn also describes her as a loyal queen to Ahasuerus; her virtue is beyond any doubt. What is more, in all four plays Esther emphatically voices her trust in God.

Keywords: Joris Berckmans; Nicolaas Fonteyn; Petrus Philicinus; Hasselt; rhetoricians; Neo-Latin drama; Dutch and Flemish drama