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  • Developing Zeami: The Noh Actor's Attunement in Practice
  • Margaret Coldiron
Developing Zeami: The Noh Actor's Attunement in Practice. By Shelley Fenno Quinn. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. 496 pp. 11 black and white illus. Hardcover $55.00; paperback $22.00.

This is an impressive work of scholarship that draws upon a vast array of historical, biographical, literary, and critical materials relating to nō. As a specialist in medieval Japanese language and literature, Shelley Fenno Quinn is able to make important material previously available only to Japanese readers accessible to an English-language audience. The study covers three main areas: the quest for yūgen (translated here as "mystery and depth/grace") and the way in which the pedagogical treatises of the great waka and renga poets influenced Zeami's writings; the development of Zeami's dramaturgy through his association with court poets; and the relationship of religious, philosophical, and poetic concepts to Zeami's ideas about actor training and performance. The book also includes Quinn's own annotated translations of Zeami's Sandō (his treatise on playwriting) and the seminal "god play," Takasago. All of this is brought together in a single, densely packed volume written in clear, accessible language. While exceptionally detailed, its lucid style makes it comprehensible for undergraduates, though it maybe too specialised for the general reader. The volume is a bookshelf essential for Japanese theatre specialists and a useful companion to Thomas Rimer and Masakazu Yamazaki's [End Page 297] admirable translation of Zeami's treatises (On the Art of Noh Drama, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).

In addition to providing literary and historical perspectives, a great strength of this exploration of Zeami's writings is that it never omits the practical viewpoint of the performer. Quinn's authority in this derives from her own extensive experience as a student of nō. Throughout the book the reader remains aware that, however mystical or philosophical his writings may sometimes appear to be, Zeami was a working actor and playwright who needed to find ways to make his company's performances successful in a highly competitive environment.

In her useful introduction, Quinn says that she wants to trace "the development of [Zeami's] ideas on how best to cultivate attunement between the performer and audience," but the central focus of Quinn's analysis seems less to do with the audience than with the development of Zeami's theories and nō. The study methodically examines the way in which Zeami's ideas about sarugaku and became deeper and more holistic through experience. It illustrates, in marvelous detail, how successive treatises moved beyond matters of technique to profounder issues concerning the consciousness of the actor and the capacity of the physical, poetic and psycho-spiritual aspects of performance to transform both performers and spectators. The dual perspective that Quinn provides (literary/historical and practical) sends the reader back to Zeami's treatises with a new understanding.

The book offers new insights into the development of the art from a semi-improvised, popular mimetic drama (sarugaku) to a refined, stylised court art in which complex literary/poetic texts are performed through dance and chant (nō). A touchstone throughout is the concept of nikyoku santai (two modes, three styles), which became fundamental to Zeami's notions of training for the actor. Quinn argues that, with Zeami's exposure to the literary tastes of the court and most particularly through his relationship with the renga poet Nijō Yoshimoto, Zeami began to shift away from an emphasis on monomane ("imitation" or mimetic acting, which was as the traditional strength of the Yamato region sarugaku into which he was born) and toward the more elevated aesthetic and mysterious grace of yūgen. Zeami determined that the qualities of yūgen were more likely to be found in the arts of singing and dancing (the "two modes") than in "realistic acting" (monomane), and so the development of from sarugaku involved a gradual move away from a character-based drama to something more stylized. Thus, the nine character types described in Zeami's early treatises became distilled into the "three styles" of woman, old man...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2109
Print ISSN
0742-5457
Pages
pp. 297-299
Launched on MUSE
2007-03-12
Open Access
No
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