Reformers on Stage: Popular Drama and Religious Propaganda in the Low Countries of Charles V, 1515-1556


364 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-4457-3
DDC 839.31'2209'382706




Reviewed by David E. Kemp

David E. Kemp, a former professor of drama at Queen’s University, is
the author of The Pleasures and Treasures of the United Kingdom.


During the era of Charles V (1515–56), plays were written and
performed by amateur literary and acting companies known as chambers of
rhetoric. Members of the chambers saw themselves not only as
entertainers but also as cultural leaders who, through the vernacular
drama, presented the social and religious ideas of their time and at the
same time either promoted or opposed religious and social reforms.
Focusing on two distinct urban communities (Antwerp and Amsterdam), this
exceptionally well-researched book examines how the chambers of
rhetoric, in promoting social and religious reforms, accommodated their
own concerns as urban artisans and merchants. Although these dramatic
bands professed orderly change, they contributed significantly to the
rise of anticlerical sentiment and to an increasing dissatisfaction with
the ruling House of Hapsburg.

This important study not only throws new light on the nature of
specific local activity in this field but has far broader implications
with respect to the nature of Reformation as it directly affected the
low countries. Waite offers concise explanations of the plays that
remain, and that are available only in 16th-century Dutch. A volume of
translations would be a most welcome follow-up to this fine book.


Waite, Gary K., “Reformers on Stage: Popular Drama and Religious Propaganda in the Low Countries of Charles V, 1515-1556,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024,