Chikamatsu: Five Late Plays

Translated and annotated by C. Andrew Gerstle
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725), often referred to as "Japan's Shakespeare" and a "god of writers," was arguably the most famous playwright in Japanese history and wrote more than 100 plays for the kabuki and bunraku theaters. Today, the plays of this major literary figure are performed on kabuki and bunraku stages as well as in the modern theater, and forty-nine films of his plays have been made, thirty-one of them from the silent era.

    Translations of Chikamatsu's plays are available, but we have few examples of his late work, in which he increasingly incorporated stylistic elements of his shorter, contemporary dramas into his longer period pieces. Translator C. Andrew Gerstle argues that in these mature history plays, Chikamatsu depicted the tension between the private and public spheres of society by combining the rich character development of his contemporary pieces with the larger political themes of his period pieces.

    In this volume Gerstle translates five plays -- four histories and one contemporary piece -- never before available in English that complement other collections of Chikamatsu's work, revealing new dimensions to the work of this great Japanese playwright and artist.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50498-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations in the Bibliography and Notes
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Maps
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-35)

    Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653—1725), Japan’s most famous playwright, produced more than one hundred works during a career of about forty-five years spent writing for the jōruri (bunraku) and kabuki theaters in Kyoto and Osaka. Several “collected works” of his plays, most of which filled a complete day of theater, were published in the twentieth century, most recently in seventeen volumes.¹

    Ogyū Sorai (1666—1728), a famous philosopher and contemporary of Chikamatsu, left a succinct comment on the quality of his writing: “Chikamatsu’s style can be seen clearly in the opening lines of the michiyuki journey section of Love Suicides at...

  7. Twins at the Sumida River
    (pp. 36-117)

    Long before this play was first performed in the eighth month of 1720, the “Sumida River” theme or “world” (sekai) had expanded greatly from the narrow confines of the lyrical nō drama, with its focus on a mother searching for a stolen child, to include a large group of characters and plots in an epiclike narrative.¹

    Nō theatre often takes its source from a longer tale or legend and concentrates on what is perceived to be the essence of the story or character, usually a particular emotion emanating from a specific incident. The later storytelling genres (sekkyō, “religious or miracle...

  8. Lovers Pond in Settsu Province
    (pp. 118-201)

    First performed in the second month of 1721 when Chikamatsu was sixty-nine years old, Lovers Pond in Settsu Province¹ followed three months after what many consider to be his best “contemporary-life” play, Love Suicides at Amijima,² and six months after his first murderer-hero play, Twins at the Sumida River. The title places the tale in the greater Osaka area and refers specifically to act 3 . The full title of Lovers Pond includes the phrase “chapter 48 of the Go-Taiheiki,”³ which in reality doesn’t exist, suggesting to his audience both that Chikamatsu is setting the story in the mid-1500s and...

  9. Battles at Kawa-nakajima
    (pp. 202-277)

    Battles at Kawa-nakajima¹ was first performed on the third day of the eighth month, 1721, only three weeks after Woman-Killer and the Hell of Oil,² the last of Chikamatsu’s series of three murderer-hero plays. Kawa-nakajima marks a considerable shift in theme from Chikamatsu’s dramas of the preceding two or three years, which had explored the psychology of crime and responsibility and were highly critical of corruption in government. He alters the fundamental nature of a period play: in contrast to The Battles of Coxinga and the first two plays in this volume, the opposing forces around which the play revolves...

  10. Love Suicides on the Eve of the Kōshin Festival
    (pp. 278-324)

    First performed on the twenty-second day of the fourth month in 1722, Kōshin Festival¹ is Chikamatsu’s final contemporary-life play. Like most of the other twenty-three, it was based on an actual incident in Osaka, in this case, only two weeks earlier on the sixth day of the same month. A married couple—the wife pregnant—committed suicide. The event seems to have caused a great stir, spurring both Chikamatsu and his rival, Ki no Kaion (1663–1742) at the nearby Toyotake-za theater, to dramatize it. Kaion’s Shinjū futatsu hara-obi (Love Suicides and a Double Maternal-Sash)² is thought to have been...

  11. Tethered Steed and the Eight Provinces of Kantō
    (pp. 325-428)

    First performed on the fifteenth day of the first month 1724, a year and eight months after Love Suicides at the Kōshin Festival, this final play was meant to be an auspicious opening to the New Year.¹ Chikamatsu had been quite ill for much of this long break, and he perhaps sensed that this was to be his swan song: it is his longest drama. He died on the twenty-second day of the eleventh month of the same year.

    Judging by the commentary in the illustrated books of this play published during its first run, its reception was favorable, especially...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 429-512)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 513-522)
  14. Glossary of Terms
    (pp. 523-528)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 529-534)