Joost van den Vondel was undoubtedly the greatest Dutch poet and playwright of the seventeenth century. Famous plays from his hand were performed until well into the twentieth century, and one of his plays, Gijsbreght van Aemstel, ran to a considerable number of editions. Manuscripts from our ‘prince of poets’ are scarce. The Vondelmuseum in the library of the University of Amsterdam has individual autographic poems, but the poet's complete written legacy has not survived. This makes the surviving copy of the first edition of a play, in which the master has written down directions and casting in his own hand, of singular interest.
In the theatrical season of 1640-1641 Joost van den Vondel was undisputedly the leading author of the Amsterdam theatre. Starting with Christmas 1640 as many as three of his plays opened there. After performances of Jozef in Dothan and Jozef in Egypte - together with his previously performed Sofompaneas, based on a Latin play by Hugo Grotius, to be called the ‘Joseph trilogy’ - there was also the first night of Gebroeders on 8 April 1641. At the time Vondel was engaged by the theatre as artistic director or producer avant la lettre. He decided which plays were to be put on or taken off, did the casting and made stage designs and costumes. In a printed copy of his Gebroeders he added names to the ‘personagien’, as is shown on the facing page: Abjathar: Harman van Ilt; Rey: [chorus] Triael; David: Jan Lemmers; Levyten: Adam Carels; Gabaonners: Thomas de Keyser; Benajas: Triael; Rispe: Jisaac Verbiest; Michol: Jacobus de Ville; Gebroeders: Jan Meerhuysen; Mephiboseth: Isaac Vos. Vondel added another part: Joab to be played by Jan Baptist. He also wrote down the singers Barend van Hoorn, Jacob Willemsz, Jan Nooseman and Jelis Nooseman. Triael Parkar was given a double role. His name, first written after Mephiboseth, was now put after the Rey and after Benajas. The actors Frans Schuijlings and Paulus Pierson were passed over, their names crossed out. The changes in the cast may have been made after Vondel had met some talented young actors in 1640: Jan Baptist van Fornenbergh, Triael Parkar and Gillis Noosemans. This trio became the managing partners of a troupe that scored triumphs in the second half of the seventeenth century all over Europe.
Gebroeders. Treurspel. Joost van den Vondel. t'Amsterdam, by Dominicus vander Stichel, voor Abraham de Wees, 1640. 4º. - 392 H 28, fol. 6v-7r