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Japanese Noh and Kyögen Plays: Staging Dichotomy Zvika Serper TheNoh and Kyögen forms ofJapanese theaterwere perfected during theMuromachiperiod (1336-1568) and (combinedas Nögaku) they comprise the Japanese traditional aristocratic theater still being performed today. Although they evolved alongside each other, sharing various theatrical elements and being performed together on the same stage, they are separate forms. Their actors' training programs, which usuallypass from generation to generation within a family, are different, and actors of one form do not perform the other. Noh (literally,"skill or ability"), the lyrical traditional Japanese theater, draws its material from many sources and its form from ritual and folk dances. It is essentially a poetic,quasi-religious musical drama,usuallywithout dramatic conflict. Generally,onlythe main actor wears a mask.The performance is accompaniedbya chorus (ji utai) ofsixto ten actors and amusicalband (hayashJ) comprised of a flautist and two or three drummers. The chorus plays a narrative role or may even chant the lines of the main character. The rhythm ofthe drums and the tension suggested by the flute add an important element oftheperformance.Theplayis actedwithveryfewprops, on a raised,resonant,and emptystage.The second form,Kyögen (literally, "ecstatic speech") comprises relatively short comic plays that serve as interludes between the serious Noh plays. The plots are based in the present, and the texts express a stylized form of the vernacular of the Muromachiperiod.Kyögen can evoke modes offarce,satire,tragicomedy, orvarious othergenres that dealwith the dailylife ofthe lower and middle classes. Relationships between an ordinary man and his wife or lover, or 307 308ComparativeDrama between a master and his servant, are the most common themes in Kyögen, contrasting with the more serious appearances of ghosts, gods, and demons in Noh. An exploration of the full dramatic meaning and structure ofNögaku as the combination ofNoh and Kyögen reveals these as two dichotomous forms that complement each other,with the various dramatic elements ofeach molded in a harmony ofcontrasts that create balance and dynamism. Thisharmonyofcontrasts,whichI consideras one ofthe most important concepts ofthe traditional Japanese theater, originated in Chinese philosophy,which teaches that change is the main factor in cosmic existence . This notion of change taking place between two poles led to the concept that seeks to fuse contradictoryelements into a unifiedharmony. The Chinese philosophers termed the two poles ofeach contrast yin and yang (in and yö in Japanese). While yang represents activity, positivity, masculinity, heat, brightness, and so forth, yin represents the opposite— passivity,negativity,femininity,coldness,darkness,andsoforth.Through the interaction of these opposing principles, all phenomena of the universe areproduced.Each contrastpossesses two contradictorystates: static and dynamic. At all times there is a harmonic balance between the two poles ofeach contrast,which exist side by side,creating a dynamic interaction that replaces and regenerates the other; and each ofthem contains a minor manifestation of the other. The Chinese concept of harmony of contrasts, adopted by the Japanese in the seventh century,was alreadywell establishedbythe eighth century.1 The way oflife derived from this concept is still evident today in many areas in Japan. As was the case in other areas of life, Japanese classical theater too was greatly influenced by this concept, employing not onlyone pair ofChinese philosophical contrasts but two.In addition to the contrast of in/yö that relates in particular to formative contrasts (dark/light, quiescence/movement, feminine/masculine, weak/strong, bent/straight, and so forth), there is the contrast of kyo (fiction, false, abstract, and empty) andjitsu (reality, real, concrete, and full). The kyo andjitsu relate to the essence of the material, and form the basis of the theatrical medium—the coexistence and dynamic interaction of two alternate worlds, fiction and reality. Zvika Serper309 The consolidators ofNoh and Kyögen discuss the importance ofthis aspect in their art. In Fûshi kaden (The Transmission of the Flower of Forms), the first treatise by Zeami Motokiyo (c.1363-1443), this consolidator and most important master in Noh history, emphasizes the importance of the harmony between in and yö, and provides a concrete example in the contrasts that must be created between the mood ofacting and the time ofperformance or the weather; for example, against...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 307-360
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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