Rederijkerskamers

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Rederijkerskamers (Lit: "chambers of rhetoric"), also spelled Rederykerskamers in Afrikaans, are Dutch cultural societies which played an important role in Dutch and Afrikaans theatre in the 19th century.

Sometimes simply referred to as Rederijkers.


Origins

The original Dutch cultural societies derived from the French notion of a "college de rhétorique", which sought to promote poetry and rhetoric and took root in Southern Holland in the 15th century.

One of the earliest recorded was Het Boeck, a poet's society founded in Brussels in 1401AD, which focussed on rhetoric utilizing poems as well as plays. Over the course of the next three centuries the idea spread further and became a cultural feature of Northern Holland as well.

By the mid 19th century (in 1856) the societies appeared to be flourishing and the Nederlandsche Rederijkers Verbond ("Society of Redrijkerskamers"), to which the majority of such and related societies devoted to rhetoric and poetry were affiliated, lists the names over 200 new members!

The Rederijkerkamers or Guilds are a phenomenon of the 16th century Holland, which lasted till well into the 19th century, leading to the establishment of professional theatre in that country. They were closely allied to the church and travelled the country to perform in all the main towns and at fairs. Their repertoire was wide and included everything from morality and allegorical plays, to farce and classical tragedy. While their initial audiences were rough working class people who favoured broad farce and folk theatre, they gradually evolved a more sophisticated audience in the 18th century, which preferred tragedy. Surprisingly the Rederijkers did not appaer to have any marked effect on theatre and entrertainment in the Cape colony during the Dutch Occupation (except for conjectural performances in the Barracks - largely of the farcical kind). But during the 19th century under British rule, the rederijker concept appeared to take hold in the form of a number of amateur cultural and educational societies which had a hufe impact on South African theatre. Among the more prominent were ** Tot Nut en Vermaak (1842 - 1847), and **. (TH) (See: Bosman, 1980 and Fletcher, 1994)


Rederijkers in South Africa

Structure

The idea transposed to South Africa rather late, arriving only in the 19th century. The South African societies appear to have been somewhat less irreverent and more functionally organised than their Dutch counterparts (which had a "Keiser" or a "Prince" rather than the local Chairman and Secretary as leader for example), and where aimed at promoting Dutch literature and culture through poetry recitals, debates and dramatic and musical performances. They had an enormous impact on Dutch - and consequently on Cape Dutch and ultimately Afrikaans - literature and theatre.


Key groups

The first formal South African Rederijkerskamer was Thespis, founded in Paarl in 1857 by ***. A second, very famous one was Aurora, founded in Paarl in 1862, which appears to have gone through a number of phases and - though initalliy shortlived - eventually survived into the twentieth century. Revived as Aurora II in 1866 in Cape Town, it owed much of its success to the active participation of the prolific playwrights Melt Brink and H.W. Teengs. After its collapse in 1887, it was once more revived by Brink as Aurora III in 1909 and existed till 1914. Another Rederijkerskamer of note was Onze Taal, founded in Pretoria in 1890 and active till 1912. Tot Nut en Vermaak (1842 - 1847),

Other groups were:

Impact on South African theatre

They had an enormous impact on Dutch - and consequently on Cape Dutch and ultimately Afrikaans - literature and theatre. They formed the basis of the evolution of the influential Afrikaans amateur theatre movement in the country, while some semi-professional writers (e.g. Melt Brink) and performers had their first exposure to theatre in the cultural evenings presented by these groups.



Sources

Bosman, 1928 and 1980; Binge, 1969; Fletcher, 1994

For more information

See entries on individual companies and the entry on Dutch Theatre in South Africa.

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