Disenchantment of the word in sixteenth-century Dutch farce

Femke Kramer*

*Corresponding author for this work

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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. This paper argues that these farcical exorcism episodes, besides ridiculing exorcism and expressing scepticism in matters of demonology, also undermined beliefs concerning the potency of language. Analysis of the ritual as represented in farce and the metadiscursive comments surrounding it points 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. Viewed against a backdrop of historical and ethnographic documentation on this type of discourse, this notion 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
Pages (from-to)276-301
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Historical Pragmatics
Issue number2
Early online date5-Sept-2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct-2023

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