In 1532 the Ghent guild of Sint-Kathelijne ter Hoeyen had a record made of its possessions, mainly, as it appears, liturgical and devotional objects. The inventory, however, a booklet of 12 pages (now ms. n° 2471 in the University Library in Ghent), also contains a list of ‘books’ which the society apparently had at its disposal. All of these ‘books’ turn out to be plays for the stage, partly of religious, partly with a secular character. The contents or at least the subjects of most of the nine secular plays in the list can be inferred from the title provided. An exception in this respect is the play to which we turn our attention in this article, the Play of Olivier of Leefdale. The hero of this play, Olivier of Leefdale, can be identified as a Brabant nobleman having lived at the turn of the twelfth century, a companion of count Godfrey I of Louvain, the first prince who also became duke of Lorraine. Olivier’s adventures are part of the ‘life’ of Godfrey in two chronicles of Brabant dating from the first part of the fifteenth century: Hennen van Merchtenen’s Cornicke van Brabant (1415) and Petrus de Thimo’s Brabantiae historia diplomatica (second quarter of the fifteenth century), both of which probably (directly or indirectly) depend on a fourteenth-century epic on Godfrey, which itself only has survived in a few small fragments. De Thimo’s work contains a vivid account of Olivier’s quest in the East for his prince, who is kept captive in a castle
in Armenia, together with the Emperor’s son Henry. After their liberation Olivier victoriously takes part, siding with the emperor, in a war in Italy and becomes duke of Tuscany and capitaneus of the Empire in Italy. These episodes in the Brabantiae historia are written in a strikingly dialogical style. They probably give a good idea of what the Play of Olivier of Leefdale may have looked like. Hennen van Merchtenen on the other hand would seem to be a plausible candidate as a writer of the play in the Ghent list, especially if – in contrast to what is currently accepted, but as some aspects of versification would seem to indicate – he was indeed the Middle Dutch author who, under De Thimo’s supervision, wrote the ‘Continuation’ (parts 6 and 7) of the Brabantsche yeesten.
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