Nigel Smith
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Migration and drama
Amsterdam 1617
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From a cultural, political and literary perspective, the Low Countries have a claim to be the major cultural entrepôt of early modern Europe, part and parcel of the global mercantile pre-eminence of the United Provinces. Migration from the southern Netherlands into the Dutch republic in the north, and from elsewhere in northern Europe was extremely high at this time. This essay explores the treatment of migration in one of the most famous comedies of a reformed Dutch theatre, G. A. Bredero’s Spaanse Brabander (1617), an adaptation of the Spanish prose fiction Lazarillo de Tormes (1554), showing Bredero’s theatre as an analytical microscope of migration as dominant cause of city formation. Further comparison is made with Bredero’s Terentian play Moortje (1615), in which the presence of a southern African is related to the early activity of Dutch merchants in that region, and the presence of an African community in seventeenth-century Amsterdam. Bredero’s powerful insights into the nature and consequences of migration in his world of linguistic and racial confusion, hunger, bankrupt merchants, beggar boys, prostitutes and sex offenders puts his drama in the first rank of any literary canon, national or international.

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