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  • Developing Zeami: The Noh Actor's Attunement in Practice
  • Eric C. Rath
Developing Zeami: The Noh Actor's Attunement in Practice. By Shelley Fenno Quinn. University of Hawai'i Press, 2005. xi + 479 pages. Hardcover $55.00; paperback $22.00.

Actor, playwright, and theorist, Zeami Motokiyo (1363? -1443?) is today synonymous with noh theater, thanks to the popularity of his plays and the centrality of his aesthetic terminology to discourse on noh. To him we owe notions such as the metaphor of the "flower" (hana) for an actor's achievements on stage and "grace" (yūgen), both of which are terms distilled from Zeami's once secret artistic writings.

Since most of Zeami's writings were not widely available until they were published in the early twentieth century, we cannot be sure how much his ideas were known and put into practice during his lifetime or later. Nevertheless, the twenty-one secret treatises he composed offer not only the earliest theories on the nature of drama and acting in Japan, but also the best source for assessing his watershed contributions to the historical development of noh. In Developing Zeami, Shelley Fenno Quinn offers a chronological reading of Zeami's treatises to assess the maturation of his ideas on acting, playwriting, and actor training. The book's subtitle, The Noh Actor's Attunement in Practice, and Quinn's continued references to "the actor" as Zeami's subject and/or readership indicate that Zeami's ideas can resonate beyond the context of his lifetime to speak to performers and audiences today.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 (chapters 1-3) traces Zeami's shift away from imitation (monomane), which had been his acting troupe's trademark, to a concern for nurturing yūgen. Part 2, "Zeami's Literary Turn," devotes two chapters to the development of these ideas in his dramaturgy, and part 3 (chapters 6 and 7) takes up his program for actor training. Quinn also includes two translations as appendices: Three Techniques (Sandō), Zeami's treatise on play composition, which may have been composed for his son Motoyoshi, and Takasago, a play Zeami identified in Sandō as a model for composition.

In the annotation to the translation of Sandō, Quinn makes a close comparison of the various editions of this work, including a recently discovered traced copy of a no-longer extant manuscript believed to date from the early seventeenth century. Quinn's minute reading of the various versions of Sandō in combination with their scholarly commentary are indicative of her painstaking scholarship. Although a well-established [End Page 538] approach in Japanese scholarly works on the subject, it offers a depth in dealing with the challenges presented by Zeami's treatises not found in prior English studies.

In chapter 1, Quinn presents a chronology of Zeami's treatises within the context of his life. She holds that the first three chapters of Style and the Flower (Fūshikaden), written around 1400, reflect Zeami's early ideas, inherited from his father, Kan'ami. Sandō dates to 1423, the end of Zeami's so-called "middle period" of treatise composition, which preceded the accession of Ashikaga Yoshinori as shogun in 1429. Yoshinori's persecution of Zeami and the playwright's subsequent decline in fame mark his late period, which encompasses works on music such as Five Vocal Sounds (Go'on) and Talks on Sarugaku (Sarugaku dangi).

The first three chapters of Fūshikaden provide the earliest inkling that Zeami wanted to move beyond monomane. Quinn notes Zeami's praise for the yūgen characteristic of the Ōmi troupes' performances and suggests that, following the line of his father's efforts to incorporate features of the narrative dance art kusemai into noh, he sought to infuse yūgen in his own troupe's acting through the inclusion of more dance and chant. In his middle period, these aspirations crystallized in the maxim "two modes and three styles" (nikyoku santai): the "two modes" comprising dance and music and the "three styles" indicating the representation of three types of character (aged, feminine, and martial). This formula provided Zeami with a template that allowed for the creation of yūgen...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1880-1390
Print ISSN
0027-0741
Pages
pp. 538-540
Launched on MUSE
2005-12-20
Open Access
No
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