Tydskrif vir Letterkunde
On-line version ISSN 2309-9070
T'SJOEN, Yves. Hugo Claus and Het leven en de werken van Leopold II (1970). Tydskr. letterkd. [online]. 2009, vol.46, n.1, pp. 151-166. ISSN 2309-9070.
The première of Claus' play Het leven en de werken van Leopold II (The Life and Works of Leopold II), in November 1970 (by the company Nederlandse Comedie), was directed by the author himself. After a second and again rather unsuccessful run (1972 - 1973, Arena, director: J. Tummers) it disappeared from the stage for nearly thirty years: there was no other production of Claus' play in the Low Countries until the autumn of 2002 (KVS, director: R. Ruëll). Undoubtedly Het leven en de werken van Leopold II is one of the lesser-known plays by the Flemish author Hugo Claus (1929-2008). While writing it, at the end of the sixties, Claus was simultaneously working on two poetry collections. Van horen zeggen contains accessible poems, sometimes rather anecdotal, with many references to the contemporary political situation. These poems show a clear affinity with the neo-realistic poetry that was dominant in Dutch-language literature in the sixties. Also in 1970, on the same day as Van horen zeggen, Claus published Heer Everzwijn (Lord Wild Boar), manneristic poetry showing another poeta faber. Given Claus' interest in the history of the Congo Free State (see also the novel De geruchten [The rumours]) and the way he caricatures King Leopold II and his government in Het leven en de werken, it is worth investigating the political and social perspectives articulated in both his drama and his poetry. What are the similarities between the poet and the playwright? How can we explain his interest in the way Leopold mistreated the people of the Congo? In this essay I present the ideological and social points of view adopted by Claus in a broad literary and political context, studying his play on Leopold's atrocities in what would later (in 1908) become a Belgian colony, alongside the poetry he produced in the same period.
Keywords : Flemish theatre and poetry; Congo literature; (post)colonialism; Belgian history.