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Golden Age of Chinese Drama: Yuan Tsa-Chu

Golden Age of Chinese Drama: Yuan Tsa-Chu

Copyright Date: 1976
Pages: 334
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  • Book Info
    Golden Age of Chinese Drama: Yuan Tsa-Chu
    Book Description:

    The 171 extant plays of the Yuan period (1279-1368) are the oldest and most brilliant examples of Chinese dramatic literature. In this first comprehensive study, Chung-wen Shih systematically explores the riches of Yuan drama, from its unexcelled lyric poetry to its colorful characterization. After tracing the popular genres that contributed to the flowering of Yuan drama, the author describes conventional features of dramatic construction, methods of characterization, and recurring themes. The central focus is on the use of language: prose passages and lyrics are cited to show how innovative use of spoken language invests the prose with a remarkable strength and suppleness, and how imaginative use of figurative language endows the poetry with an incomparable richness of texture. Attention is also given to the use of music and physical aspects of staging.

    Originally published in 1976.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7109-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Foreword
    (pp. v-viii)

    Yüan drama is at once the first full florescence, the Golden Age and the grand classical forebear of all Chinese theatre. In performance, the most we could hope to see of it today would be a reconstruction of its lost music and largely unknown stage conventions. Yet, thanks to Ming period enthusiasts like Tsang Mao-hsün, remarkably complete versions survive of about a hundred and seventy plays, a corpus four times the size of the entire classical Greek drama. In these texts we can find many of the glamorous beings still portrayed in the traditional drama today: the favored Imperial consort...

  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    C. W. S.
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. I Historical Background and Social Milieu
    (pp. 3-19)

    The Chinese have traditionally found pleasure in theatrical entertainment. For centuries before the development of Yüan drama, song, dance, and pageantry had been a part of Chinese life. Song and dance rituals stemming from the practice of shamanism have been singled out by Wang Kuo-wei as the possible origin of Chinese drama.¹ The male and female shamans, referred to ashsiandwurespectively, date back to before the Chou dynasty (1122?-221 b.c.), and are mentioned in the Chinese classics. In accordance with the ancient Chinese belief that the gods could move righteous persons to speak oracles, these male and...

  6. II Conventions and Structure
    (pp. 20-46)

    Certain conventions from the oral narrative tradition survived in the drama, making an important contribution to its form beyond actual stories and thematic material. It will be useful to begin by quoting a section of a Yüan play,Autumn in the Han Palace, by Ma Chih-Yüan, to serve as a background for the discussion of the structural devices. The section quoted is from the beginning of Act i:

    (Mao Yen-shou enters.)

    mao (recites):

    Large pieces of gold I hoard and idolize;

    Seas of blood or royal commands cannot me jeopardize.

    I want to be rich when still alive,

    And mind...

  7. III Characterization
    (pp. 47-67)

    In the Yüan plays, most characters are types: romantic figures, such as beautiful and accomplished maidens and talented scholar-lovers; and social types, such as corrupt officials, wise judges, rebels, defenders of order, and various quacks and rogues. Character portrayal in Yüan drama is based not on naturalism but on the presentation of universal traits, emphasizing the typical. Many Western dramatists, on the other hand, emphasize complexity in character portrayal, in the belief that the many-sided attributes of the subject are necessary to round out the character and to make him seem real. Because the standards and goals of Yüan theatre...

  8. IV Themes
    (pp. 68-112)

    A great majority of the plays known to have existed in Yüan times are now lost; however, the hundred and seventy-one extant plays cover a sufficiently wide range of subject and theme to give a fair indication of the total thematic spectrum of the genre. This range is exhibited in the twelve traditional categories listed inThe Sounds of Universal Harmony(T’ai-ho cheng-yin p’u, 1398), by Chu Ch’üan, the son of the first emperor of the Ming dynasty and a playwright in his own right. The twelve categories are: (1) “becoming gods and immortals” (shen-hsien tao hua); (2) “living as...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. V The Language
    (pp. 113-179)

    When Voltaire adapted Father Premare’s translation of the Yüan playThe Chao Family Orphanfor the French stage, he observed that, in spite of the improbability of the plot, interest is maintained throughout the play and, in spite of the multiplicity of episodes, everything is of the most brilliant clarity. He added that notwithstanding the fact that the play lacked passion and eloquence, it was more brilliant than anything written in France during the same period.¹ Had Father Prémare not omitted from his translation of 1735 virtually all the forty-three songs that were in the original play, Voltaire probably would...

  11. VI Music
    (pp. 180-197)

    Chinese traditional theatre is inextricably associated with music. In Yüan drama, songs appear in every scene. To achieve a workable artistic unity of poetry, narrative, stage-craft, and acrobatics requires a framework allowing each element adequate scope, so that the aesthetic effect of each can be appreciated. In a Yüan play, music seems to be a significant part of such a framework.

    Since there are no surviving musical scores from the Yüan period, studying the nature of the music employed and its value as a dramatic element becomes an extremely difficult problem. However, some information can still be gleaned from a...

  12. VII The Stage
    (pp. 198-222)

    As in the case of music, any attempt to study the Yüan stage is hampered by the scarcity of available information. Scattered and fragmentary references must be gathered from many sources. The following are most significant to an understanding of Yüan theatrical performance.

    A Peasant Unfamiliar with the Theatre” (“Chuang-chia pu shih kou-lan”). “A Peasant Unfamiliar with the Theatre,” a song-suite (t’ao-shu) by the thirteenth-century author Tu Shan-fu, gives valuable information about a performance in a town theatre in the Yüan period. Although it is not known for certain that the presentation was ayüan-penortsa-chü, the peasant’s description...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 223-224)

    This study of Yüan drama, drawing attention to various relevant and modifying elements, has touched upon diverse aspects of the genre. The poet’s script is our main source of information about the sundry ingredients of the drama, but the script itself cannot be considered to be the play. In a study of Yuan drama, it is essential to remember that the script is only one aspect of a play; the narrative tradition, language, and music, as well as the dramatists and audience, must all be taken into consideration in an attempt to understand the genre.

    Judging this literature by universal...

  14. Appendix Extant Yüan Plays and Their Authors
    (pp. 225-234)
  15. Abbreviations
    (pp. 235-236)
  16. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 237-280)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 281-296)
  18. Index
    (pp. 297-312)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 313-313)