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A Beggar's Art

A Beggar's Art: Scripting Modernity in Japanese Drama, 1900-1930

M. Cody Poulton
Copyright Date: 2010
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  • Book Info
    A Beggar's Art
    Book Description:

    In the opening decades of the twentieth century in Japan, practically every major author wrote plays that were published and performed. The plays were seen not simply as the emergence of a new literary form but as a manifestation of modernity itself, transforming the stage into a site for the exploration of new ideas and ways of being. A Beggar’s Art is the first book in English to examine the full range of early twentieth-century Japanese drama. Accompanying his study, M. Cody Poulton provides his translations of representative one-act plays. Poulton looks at the emergence of drama as a modern literary and artistic form and chronicles the creation of modern Japanese drama as a reaction to both traditional (particularly kabuki) dramaturgy and European drama. Translations and productions of the latter became the model for the so-called New Theater (shingeki), where the question of how to be both modern and Japanese at the same time was hotly contested. Following introductory essays on the development of Japanese drama from the 1880s to the early 1930s, are translations of nine seminal one-act plays by nine dramatists, including two women, Okada Yachiyo and Hasegawa Shigure. The subject matter of these plays is that of modern drama everywhere: discord between men and women, between parents and children, and the resulting disintegration of marriages and families. Both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat make their appearances; modern pretensions are lampooned and modern predicaments lamented in equal measure. Realism (as evidenced in the plays of Kikuchi Kan and Tanaka Chikao) prevails as the mode of modernity, but other styles are presented: the symbolism of Izumi Kyoka, Suzuki Senzaburo’s brittle melodrama, Kubota Mantaro’s minimalistic lyricism, Akita Ujaku’s politically incisive expressionism, and even a proto-absurdist work by Japan’s master of prewar drama, Kishida Kunio. With its combination of new translations and informative and theoretically engaging essays, A Beggar’s Art will prove invaluable for students and researchers in world theater and Japanese studies, particularly those with an interest in modern Japanese literature and culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6074-5
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Meiji Drama Theory before Ibsen
    (pp. 1-26)

    As with so many other aspects of life in Meiji Japan, theatre also went through the convulsions of modernization, and theatre “reform” (as it was called) was part and parcel of a public effort to create a modern, “civilized” nation. These were, in the first place, top-down efforts by the government to clean upkabuki’s unsavory reputation as a vulgar entertainment for the masses and make it presentable to both foreigners and the gentry, the former samurai class. From the very first decade of the Meiji era, the theatre was identified as an important site for promoting the government’s official...

  5. Part I

    • CHAPTER 2 The Rise of Modern Drama, 1909–1924
      (pp. 29-118)
      Okada Yachiyo, Izumi Kyōka, Kikuchi Kan and Suzuki Senzaburō

      “The opening of the Free Theatre is nothing other than the expression of our desire to live,” proclaimed Osanai Kaoru at the premiere of Ibsen’sJohn Gabriel Borkmanon November 27, 1909. Novelist and playwright Tanizaki Jun’ichirō (1886–1965) was at the premiere and recalled of Osanai that “such glory comes perhaps but once in a lifetime for a man.”¹ It was not only a defining moment in Osanai’s career as the most charismatic force for theshingekimovement, but it also captured a time in which the theatre served for a generation of younger writers and intellectuals as a...

  6. Part II

    • CHAPTER 3 After the Quake
      (pp. 121-236)
      Akita Ujaku, Kubota Mantarō, Kishida Kunio, Hasegawa Shigure and Tanaka Chikao

      Shortly before noon on September 1, 1923, a major earthquake struck the Tokyo region. Cooking fires, wooden houses, and broken gas lines caused a conflagration that would not die down for days. Severed water mains prevented firemen from putting out the fires. Estimates vary, but almost 700,000 houses were either partially or totally destroyed.¹ Approximately 140,000 people perished, as many as 40,000 in a single place, the Military Clothing Depot in Ryōgoku, where people had fled to open ground to escape the flames. The city’s entire infrastructure was destroyed.

      The earthquake initiated the so-called “dark valley” of the Shōwa era,...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 237-258)
  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 259-272)
  9. Index
    (pp. 273-280)