Joost van den Vondel was born in Cologne on November 17, 1587. His parents had moved there shortly before from Antwerp, a predominantly Calvinist city that had become unsafe for Mennonites. After some years, Roman Catholic Cologne also became uncomfortable for the Vondels. In 1596, the family settled in Amsterdam, where the father became a prosperous hosier. Little is known of Joost’s early years and education. Apparently he was largely self-taught. His inclination toward poetry came to expression in his teenage years, his first known poem dating from 1605. Five years later, Vondel married Mayken de Wolff. His wife assumed responsibility for the daily management of the family hosiery business, which Joost had taken over from his father. This allowed the young husband to devote much of his time to the study of the classics and the writing of poetry and plays. In fact, Vondel lived primarily for his art and studies; to him, poetry was as basic as breathing.
In 1610, Vondel’s first dramatic work, Het Pascha (the passover), was performed. This tragicomedy on the Exodus from Egypt had obvious parallels to the Dutch liberation from Spain. More plays and much poetry soon followed. In the 1620’s, Vondel suffered a prolonged period of depression. Still he managed to publish Hierusalem verwoest (Jerusalem destroyed) and Palamedes of Vermoorde Onnoselheit (Palamedes of murdered innocence), the latter a Greek tragedy about the conflict between Ulysses and Palamedes but with such undisguised insinuations about the power politics of the local centralized government that it was quickly seized. Vondel was fined by the court, but his play went...
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