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Therapeutic tragedy: Compassion, remorse, and reconciliation in the Joseph plays of Joost van den Vondel (1635-1640)

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JournalEuropean Review of History
DatePublished - 1 Feb 2010
Issue number1
Volume17
Number of pages25
Pages (from-to)27-51
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

In the years 1635-1640, Vondel wrote three tragedies based on the biblical story of Joseph. Traditionally, Neostoicism has been viewed as the key to this play that, it is argued, brings Joseph onto the stage as the personification of wise, just and merciful regent. Stoic psychology, based on the axiom that passions are erroneous judgements that need to be corrected by reason, however, poses problems for the interpretation of what are, unmistakeably, deeply passionate plays. Examining Vondel's attempt to create a new biblical poetics, this paper shows how tragic knowledge is the outcome of a complex psychagogic process involving the person of the spectator in its entirety, working on the passions to effect a change of heart. Vondel harnessed the idea of tragedy as a drama of conversion into the service of his irenicist ideals, insisting on the need for the rehabilitation of the exiled statesman Grotius, as well pleading for peace among the warring factions of divided Christianity - the larger irenicist project that animates so much of his poetry in this period.

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