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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Guilty pleasures : the uses of farcical prints for children in early modern Amsterdam Vanhaelen, Engeline Christine


This thesis examines the remarkable range of farcical prints that were marketed for 1 children in late seventeenth-century Amsterdam. Evoking controversial theatre plays, these prints picture slap-stick, sexually nuanced comic scenarios that do not seem in keeping with contemporary' convictions that the up-bringing of children was a key means to secure the future of the state. Yet there is evidence to indicate that this printed imagery did play a role in the education of middle-class children. Such contradictions open up significant questions about the reshaping of middle-class identity at a crucial moment in the emergence of the capitalist state. Indeed, the problem that this study investigates emerges from late seventeenth-century debates about the didactic function of comic prints and plays. Defenders of these forms argued that they effectively inculcated social norms-particularly mercantile ethics, gender roles, and class distinctions—in young viewers. Those who attacked the social role of this material, on the other hand, stated that it provided viewing pleasures that actually subverted these pedagogical intentions. Through an analysis of the prints themselves, I examine the ways in which the visual pleasures of these forms lured viewers in order to trap them within moral meanings. While this may have been their intended function, however, I also found much evidence that the enjoyment of farcical forms could, and did, overflow didactic restraints. It was this subversive potential that made comic forms particularly threatening to civic and church leaders of the day. In fact, a number of children's prints were linked to a series of farces that were banned from Amsterdam's theatre in the 1670's. With this, children's prints can be situated in historically specific contests about the control of urban spaces and populations. Throughout this thesis, the function of children's prints is not discussed solely in terms of either discipline or subversion, however. Rather, I argue that it is precisely the unresolved tension between comic pleasure and didactic instruction that characterizes these prints and their uses.

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