Lectures by Flemish Historian Walter Prevenier of Ghent University (Spring 2011)

April 6, 2011

5.30-6.30pm, 201 Moses Hall

The crisis of the Belgian State: Is there a future for Belgium? There is, at least, a past!

1.     Berkeley 1983, conclusion of my P. P. Rubens talk: ‘That is why Belgium will reach the year 2000. Well, probably’. I was put in the right: 2000 was one of the calmest moments of peace between Flanders and Wallonia. Not so in 2010-2011. It is time to look back to the arguments of 1983, and to what caused the change in perception.

2.     The logic of the creation of a francophone Belgium in 1830. The doubts on the Belgian prehistory of historian Henri Pirenne.

3.     The logic of the successes of the cultural Flemish Movement from 1830 to 1970.

4.     The awareness of a new battlefield, since 1970: the challenges in economy and finance, the sophisticated responses of high tech reforms of the state (1970 – 1999). A model for the rest of the world ?.

5.     The relative peaceful cease-fire from 1999 to 2007.

6.     The end of respect for the rituals of the famous Belgian compromises. The evidences changed into immense question marks and uncertainties since 2007.

7.     The split of the country is apparently no longer a taboo, nor in the North, neither in the South. A fictitious docudrama in 2006 at the francophone Belgian TV on the split of Belgium at the initiative of the Flemish, revealed a huge emotional shock and fright in the South; but Walloon socialists claimed, in 2010, to be no longer afraid of the independence of French-speaking Belgium.

A debate on the Flemish TV in 2010, with prominent economists, historians and experts in constitutional law, demonstrated that such a split was not an easy process, but technically perfect possible; even the Belgian king could remain, if wishful, a monarch.

The main remaining obstacle was the future of culturally and linguistically mixed, cosmopolitan Brussels, seat of the European Union, parliament and government, of NATO and Shape.

8.     Bargaining for reality: the truth of the explicit discourses, the truth of the underlying strategies.

April 8, 2011

10-11 am, 187 Dwinelle

The earliest wandering theater group and the first female actress in the Low Countries (April 1471)

Theater sponsored by princes and by cities in the late medieval Low Countries is now extremely well analyzed, especially the cultural and political role of the Rhetoricians. Totally hidden is the existence, the activities and the impact of professional travelling companies, performing as alternative theatre in streets and popular inns. There is a logic that we can rarely put our hands on them. No signs of sponsoring here, no bookkeeping left of course. If we know one such troupe in April 1471, one of the very earliest in the Netherlands and in Europe, it is because its leader, Mathieu Cricke, and his seven fellow actors were convicted for the abduction of a woman, and put into jail, and because they introduced a demand for grace, and were indeed pardoned by the duke of Burgundy himself. And that is his and our luck.

Four types of juridical sources survived: the pardon letter, the request for registration, eighteen interviews of eyewitnesses, investigations and payments of the fines. The settlement of these payments dragged on for years, since no bailiff had the courage to collect the arrears from the group members, considered to be socially dangerous. The second exceptionality of the case is the presence in the group of a female actress, one of the very early cases, if not the earliest, in European theatre.

This particular case of street performers present a unique opportunity for insight into the ideological opinions, social patterns of behaviour and the efficiency of social networks. It reveals a lot of fascinating aspects on peripatetic life on the fringes of medieval society. Maria, the actress was a former prostitute, recuperated from the Bruges underworld by the theatre leader. They became both experts in the art of living. After one of her performances on stage she became the mistress of a wealthy and respectably married patrician in Mechelen, himself the illegitimate son of a canon of the famous Saint-Rombaut church. Like in the best road movies, the endless odyssee of Maria and both her lovers opens windows on every possible aspect of human behaviour: adultery, love, passion, jealousy, guilt and shame, sex, enjoyment of abundant dinners, delight of drinking wine and beer, daily danger in the street, the use of weapons, physical and verbal violence.

On the other side the case brings totally new information on the badly known ‘bohemian’ type of urban theatre, insight in the practical management, their travels,  the existence of formal contracts between director and actors, the survival strategies, the financial and materialistic conditions. We can also learn that subversive street theatre had mixed audiences, commons and burghers, and that its alternative performances sometimes had an unexpected impact on unexpected spectators, to such an extent that at least for one respectable burgher of Mechelen the forbidden fruit of the fiction became the incredible reality of life.

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