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Thespis was the name of the supposed founder of modern day theatre, and is found in South Africa both as the name of a Dutch Rederijkerskamer ("chamber of rhetoric") in Paarl and as a pseudonym used by a number of theatre critics

The original Thespis

Thespis (Θέσπις in the original Greek, fl. 6th century BC)[1] was a singer of dithyrambs and a playwright from Icaria who is reputed (notably by Aristotle) to have been the founder of theatre as we know it, when he introduced the first principal actor in addition to the chorus in his performances. Other sources argue that he was the one to introduce a new style in which one singer or actor performed the words of individual characters in the stories, distinguishing between the characters with the aid of different masks. What is documented is that Thespis was the winner in the first documented Dionysia (festival of tragedy) to be held in ancient Athens in 534 BC.[2].

Thespis has thus been used as the names of theatre companies, publications and critics over the subsequent centuries and the term thespian (for a performer or actor) also derives from his name.

Thespis: rhetorical society

Thespis, was the name chosen for the first Dutch language "Rederijkerskamer" (lit. "chamber of rhetoric") established in South Africa. Founded in the town of Paarl by three Dutch immigrants, A. van der Hoop, J.H. van Enter and H.P. Wiegman on 23 June 1858, with the Latin motto "Per Aspera ad Astra", and Van der Hoop as the President, Van Enter the secretary, and Wiegman as a "commissaris". The British governor, Sir George Grey, was made an honorary member of the society and accepted.

The first formal monthly presentation by the newly established society occurred on 28 July, 1858, with Dutch poems (and two or more English poems) recited by members and students of the local Paarl Gymnasium.

The society apparently lasted for less than a year, losing its impetus when Van der Hoop returned to Holland some time towards the end of 1858 or beginning of 1859.

[TH, JH]

"Thespis": The theatre critic

"Thespis" was taken as a pseudonym by a number of theatre critics, internationally and in South Africa, over the years.

South African instances include:

In the 1850s someone wrote under this name in Cape Town for The Monitor (e.g. on 14 July 1852).

In the 1940s-1950s a critic for the Helikon also wrote under this name. See for example the reviews of Much Ado about Nothing (Helikon 1(2):13-14) and Deep are the Roots (Helikon, 1(2):114-15).


"Thespis" in Wikipedia[3].

F.C.L. Bosman, 1928: pp. 402-3; Ludwig Wilhelm Berthold Binge. 1969. Ontwikkeling van die Afrikaanse toneel (1832-1950). Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.

D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman, 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 42, 453-455

P.J. du Toit, 1988. Amateurtoneel in Suid-Afrika. Pretoria: Academica

Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg.

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"Thespis" in Wikipedia[4].