Piramus en Thisbe — Twee Rederijkersspelen uit de Zestiende Eeuw

By Dr. G.A. van Es
A Bronnenstudie en tekstuitgave by Dr. G.A. van Es.

This 2002 Sinterklaas present brings together the two oldest Dutch plays based on Ovid’s immortal Piramus and Thisbe story. Notes, reprints of illustrations and manuscript and of course the delightful story material combine to form a very pleasant package.

  • Author: Dr. G.A. van Es
  • Publisher: Zwolse Drukken en Herdrukken voor de Maatschappij der Nederlands Letterkunde te Leiden
  • Published:1964

One of the most curious phenomena in the history of the Dutch language is the rapid swing from being almost a calque of German to becoming a calque of English. The introduction to this book, published in 1964, is written in a heavily Germanized Dutch that is sometimes slow to read. By contrast, the sixteenth century Dutch is a breeze.

Nevertheless, since I have always thoroughly enjoyed the various spoofs of the Piramus and Thisbe story in Kees Stip’s Zes Variaties op een Misverstand, this book provided a lot of background. It even gives the sources for the reproduced plays from the Gesta Romanorum and the Bible des Poètes.

These plays are so-called Rederijkersspelen. This particular genre has been long maligned, but the sheer fun that speaks from them, even four centuries after, is infective. The authors of the plays, the people who wrote them down in the collected plays for the Haarlemse Rederijkerskamer and surely the people who acted the plays must have enjoyed them a lot.


Death of an Englishman

By Magdalen Nabb

“It’s just a complaint I have, an allergy. It’s the sunshine starts it off.” If you can stand reading this remark between five and perhaps ten times, then you might very well like this book. I did, the remark did get a payoff, but I’m not unreservedly enthousiastic about this book.

A mystery novel set in Florence, with a marshall of the carabinieri (spelling?) in the leading role, it appears to be Magdalen Nabb’s debut novel.

  • Author: Magdalen Nabb
  • Publisher: Collins Crime
  • Published: 1988 (1981)
  • ISBN: 0-00-6167760-4
  • Pages: 203

Let’s start with the things I really liked about this book: lots of sympathetic engaging characters, colour locale in spades (and the certainty that the author knows the locale she’s writing about), an interesting plot and a perfect length.

Things I like rather less: a protagonist with a horrible shtick, a curiously disjointed writing style that sometimes leaves me completely confused about what exactly happened, and — no, no and — that’s it.

It’s Christmas in Florence and the extremely likeable Marshall Guarnaccia has a serious bout of flu. A cadet from the military school, carabiniere Bacci, picks up the phone in the middle of the night, and the book is on its way. Bacci is a very interesting character. Young, inexperienced, ambitious, a very natty dresser, a stickler for proprieties and precision — many an author would have created an insufferable know-it-all-better from this material. But Bacci is anything but insufferable. He’s also eager to learn, eager to help and genuinely enthousiastic about his job. Quite an achievement, so much character in so short a genre novel.

The story unfolds relatively smoothly — except for the occasional stutter or stammer. Sometimes a scene feels as if it has been reconstituted from two scenes hacked to pieces, and sometimes a scene just doesn’t work. There’s a memorable chase somewhere near the end of the book (hope I’m not giving aways spoilers now) that suffers from this defect. The first twenty pages are quite hard to read…

But by the time the Captain (no, not the Marshall!) and Bacci are starting their investigation for real, the book begins to grip. And the final denouement is very touching, without getting sentimental.

I bought another one of the Marshall books together with this one (ten books for two euros…), and I’ll be starting on it right away.

Interesting, by the way, is that a google for Magdalen Nabb gives more German and French results than English hits. Don’t know what to make of that.