Joost van den Vondel

Joost van den Vondel

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Joost van den Vondel (ˈjoːst vɐn dɛn ˈvɔndəɫ, 17 November 1587 – 5 February 1679) was a Dutch
Dutch Republic
The Dutch Republic — officially known as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands , the Republic of the United Netherlands, or the Republic of the Seven United Provinces — was a republic in Europe existing from 1581 to 1795, preceding the Batavian Republic and ultimately...

A writer is a person who produces literature, such as novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, poetry, or other literary art. Skilled writers are able to use language to portray ideas and images....

 and playwright
A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

. He is considered the most prominent Dutch poet and playwright of the 17th century. His plays are the ones from that period that are still most frequently performed, and his epic Joannes de Boetgezant (1662), on the life of John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

, has been called the greatest Dutch epic.

Performances of his theatre pieces occur regularly. The most visible was the annual performance, on New Year's Day from 1637 to 1968, of Gijsbrecht van Aemstel
Gijsbrecht van Aemstel (play)
Gijsbrecht van Aemstel was a 17th century history play by Joost van den Vondel, written to inaugurate Amsterdam's first city theatre. The first production was planned to take place on 26 December 1637, but was postponed until 3 January 1638...


Vondel stayed productive until a very old age. Several of his most notable plays like Lucifer and Adam in Ballingschap were written after 1650, when he was already 65.


Joost van den Vondel was born on 17 November 1587 in the Große Witschgasse in Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

, Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

. His parents were Mennonite
The Mennonites are a group of Christian Anabaptist denominations named after the Frisian Menno Simons , who, through his writings, articulated and thereby formalized the teachings of earlier Swiss founders...

s of Antwerpian descent. In 1595, probably because of their religious conviction, they fled to Utrecht
Utrecht (city)
Utrecht city and municipality is the capital and most populous city of the Dutch province of Utrecht. It is located in the eastern corner of the Randstad conurbation, and is the fourth largest city of the Netherlands with a population of 312,634 on 1 Jan 2011.Utrecht's ancient city centre features...

 and from there they eventually moved to tolerant Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...

 in the newly formed Dutch Republic
Dutch Republic
The Dutch Republic — officially known as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands , the Republic of the United Netherlands, or the Republic of the Seven United Provinces — was a republic in Europe existing from 1581 to 1795, preceding the Batavian Republic and ultimately...


At the age of 23, Vondel married Mayken de Wolff. Together they had four children, of whom two died in infancy. After the death of his father in 1608, Vondel managed the family hosiery shop on the Warmoesstraat in Amsterdam. In the meantime, he began to learn Latin and became acquainted with famous poets such as Roemer Visscher
Roemer Visscher
Roemer Pieterszoon Visscher was a successful Dutch merchant and writer in the period often called the Dutch Golden Age.-Life:...


Around the year 1641 he converted to Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

. This was a great shock to most of his fellow countrymen, because the main conviction and de facto
De facto
De facto is a Latin expression that means "concerning fact." In law, it often means "in practice but not necessarily ordained by law" or "in practice or actuality, but not officially established." It is commonly used in contrast to de jure when referring to matters of law, governance, or...

 state religion in the Republic was Calvinist
Calvinism is a Protestant theological system and an approach to the Christian life...

Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

. It is still unclear why he became a Catholic, although his love for a Catholic lady may have played a role in this (Mayken de Wolff had died in 1635).

During his life he became one of the main advocates for religious tolerance. After the arrest, trial and the immediate beheading of the most important civilian leader of the States of Holland, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (1619), at the command of his enemy, Prince Maurits of Nassau, and the Synod of Dort
Synod of Dort
The Synod of Dort was a National Synod held in Dordrecht in 1618-1619, by the Dutch Reformed Church, to settle a divisive controversy initiated by the rise of Arminianism. The first meeting was on November 13, 1618, and the final meeting, the 154th, was on May 9, 1619...

 (1618–1619), the Calvinists had become the decisive religious power in the Republic. Public practice of Catholicism, Anabaptism and Arminianism
Arminianism is a school of soteriological thought within Protestant Christianity based on the theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius and his historic followers, the Remonstrants...

 was, from then on, officially forbidden but worship in clandestine houses of prayer was not persecuted. Vondel wrote many satires criticising the Calvinists and extolling Oldenbarnevelt. This, together with his new faith, made him an unpopular figure in Calvinist circles. He died a bitter man, though he was honoured by many fellow poets, on 5 February 1679.

Amsterdam's biggest park, the Vondelpark
The Vondelpark is a public urban park of 47 hectares in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It is located in the stadsdeel Amsterdam Oud-Zuid, west from the Leidseplein and the Museumplein. The park was opened in 1865 and originally named the "Nieuwe Park", but later renamed to "Vondelpark", after the 17th...

, bears his name. There is a statue of Vondel in the northern part of the park. The Dutch five guilder banknote bore Vondel's portrait from 1950 until its discontinuation in 1990.


His plays included; The Passover or the Redemption of Israel from Egypt (1610), Jerusalem Destroyed (1620), Palamedes (1624), Hecuba (1626), Joseph (1635), Gijsbrecht of Aemstel (1637), The Maidens (1639), The Brothers (1640), Joseph in Dothan (1640), Joseph in Egypt (1640), Peter and Paul (1641), Mary Stuart or Tortured Majesty (1646), Lion Fallers (1647), Solomon (1648), Lucifer (1654), Salmoneus (1657), Jephthah (1659), David in Exile (1660), David Restored (1660), Samson or Holy Revenge (1660), The Sigh of Adonis (1661), The Batavian Brothers or Oppressed Freedom (1663), Phaeton (1663), Adam in Exile from Eden (1664), The Destruction of the Sinai Army (1667), Noah and the Fall of the First World (1667).

Lucifer (1654) and Milton’s Paradise Lost

It has been suggested that John Milton
John Milton
John Milton was an English poet, polemicist, a scholarly man of letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell...

 drew inspiration from Lucifer (1654) and Adam in Ballingschap (1664) for his Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost
Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton. It was originally published in 1667 in ten books, with a total of over ten thousand individual lines of verse...

(1667). In some respects the two works have similarities: the focus on Lucifer
Traditionally, Lucifer is a name that in English generally refers to the devil or Satan before being cast from Heaven, although this is not the original meaning of the term. In Latin, from which the English word is derived, Lucifer means "light-bearer"...

, the description of the battle in heaven between Lucifer’s forces and Michael’s, and the anti-climax as Adam and Eve leave Paradise.

These similarities however can be explained in that they probably both drew inspiration from the Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 and perhaps Adamus exil by Hugo Grotius
Hugo Grotius
Hugo Grotius , also known as Huig de Groot, Hugo Grocio or Hugo de Groot, was a jurist in the Dutch Republic. With Francisco de Vitoria and Alberico Gentili he laid the foundations for international law, based on natural law...

. Although it is certain that Milton knew some Dutch, because Roger Williams
Roger Williams (theologian)
Roger Williams was an English Protestant theologian who was an early proponent of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. In 1636, he began the colony of Providence Plantation, which provided a refuge for religious minorities. Williams started the first Baptist church in America,...

 taught him in exchange for Hebrew lessons, it is to be doubted that Milton knew enough Dutch to understand the plays, and at that time English translations of Vondel’s works did not exist. Lastly, both works differ in many points, mainly in the dialogues.

An example of similarity is the following:

"Here may we reign secure, and in my choice To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell.

Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven."
Milton's Paradise Lost

"Is ’t noodlot, dat ick vall’, van eere en staet berooft,

Laet vallen, als ick vall’, met deze kroone op ’t hooft,

Dien scepter in de vuist, dien eersleip van vertrouden,

En zoo veel duizenden als onze zyde houden.

Dat valle streckt tot eer, en onverwelckbren lof:

En liever d’ eerste Vorst in eenigh laeger hof,

Dan in ’t gezalight licht de tweede, of noch een minder

Zoo troost ick my de kans, en vrees nu leet noch hinder."


Is it fate that I will fall, robbed of honour and dignity,

Then let me fall, if I were to fall, with this crown upon my head

This sceptre in my fist, this company of loyals,

And as many as are loyal to our side.

This fall would honour one, and give unwilting praise:

And rather [would I be] foremost king in any lower court,

Than rank second in most holy light, or even less

Thus I justify my revolt, and will now fear pain nor hindrance.
Vondel's Lucifer

External links

Joost van den Vondel at the Project Laurens Janszoon Coster
Project Laurens Janszoon Coster
Project Laurens Janszoon Coster is a collection of Dutch high literature on the web. Its name is sometimes abbreviated to Project Laurens Jansz. Coster or simply Project Coster. It is named after Project Gutenberg and after Laurens Janszoon Coster, an early European printer, of whom it is doubtful...

 Joost van den Vondel at the Digital library for Dutch literature
Digital library for Dutch literature
The Digital Library for Dutch Literature is a website about Dutch language and Dutch literature. The website contains thousands of literary texts, secondary literature and additional information, like biographies, portrayals etcetera, and hyperlinks...

 Joost van den Vondel: Profiel at the National Library of the Netherlands