Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies

?A Smile and a Tear? ? Dutch Cabaret as a Satirical Vessel for Social Critique

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Robrecht Herfkens

University of Western Australia

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“A Smile and a Tear” – Dutch Cabaret as a Satirical Vessel for Social Critique

Dutch cabaret is a theatrical genre that originated from France in the year 1881.[1] Initially established to create a new performance genre between art and entertainment, it found its way to the Dutch theatres at the start of the 20th century. However, this geographical relocation had little influence on the core elements of an original French cabaret performance, that was now adapted into the Dutch national culture. Dutch cabaret is, aside from entertainment, a way of confronting the audience with a certain aspect of reality or humanity that is usually avoided in public. Thus, contemporary Dutch cabaret, as generally a one-man, stand-up performance, expresses opinions or ideas that touch on topical issues, taboos, or other ‘sacred cows’. One could subsequently summarize Dutch cabaret as a performance art focusing on societal, political, or cultural critique. To do so, satire is essential to any cabaret performance, as it is an effective means for critique to be delivered to a corresponding audience. In what follows, I will provide a definition and a short history explaining what Dutch cabaret in essence entails. Next, I will discuss why satire and social critique is essential in Dutch cabaret, and I will explain how it uses these concepts. Through examples of a selection of Dutch cabaret performance excerpts, it will be shown in what way social critique is delivered, how it is done, and what their according purposes and effects are. Because Dutch cabaret performances are always performed in the Dutch language, I have taken the liberty of freely translating some performance excerpts from Dutch to English. I take no academic credit for these translations, as they are merely done to the best of my knowledge, and the result is what I believe to be best in terms of form, function, and effect. On the other hand, citing excerpts on paper runs the risk of losing some effect – the few songs and poems cited here do not rhyme in English, and other citations or quotes are not as effective on paper as they are on stage. Lastly, in some cited excerpts, there is strong language present – this language comes from the performances, and are in no way edited in by myself as author of this paper.

[1] W. Ibo, En nu de Moraal: geschiedenis van het nederlandse cabaret, Leiden: A. W. Sijthoff, 1981, p. 10.

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Updated 4 Mar 2016


Limina: A Journal of Historical and Cultural Studies

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