Debunking the Power of Words in Sixteenth-Century Dutch Farce

Femke Kramer*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    Representations of exorcism in farces written and performed in the sixteenth-century Low Countries at first sight merely testify to their authors’ propensity for the grotesque and critical stance towards Roman Catholic rituals. Besides ridiculing exorcism and expressing scepticism in matters of demonology, they may also have defied beliefs concerning the potency of language. Metadiscursive comments in the exorcism episodes point to a conception of the ceremony as ‘administering’ inherently powerful words to an object. This conception is also reflected in a contemporaneous ‘speech act theory’ avant la lettre which attributes autonomous powers to words, and is likely to be an outgrowth of perceptions underlying ritual discourse activities cross-culturally. Discrediting the belief that words are capable of affecting reality autonomously, the playwrights may have advocated an understanding of language as a fully man-made instrument, the use and efficacy of which are entirely human-controlled processes.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of Historical Pragmatics
    Issue number1
    Publication statusAccepted/In press - 15-Dec-2020

    Cite this