- Zeami: Performance Notes
How does one write inclusively about theatrical performance that layers visual and aural components with its literary and kinetic aspects? A discussion of nō performance compounds the problem with its layers of traditional poetics, nuances derived from the specificity of costume choices, rhythmic modes, and song styles. Practitioners and scholars alike struggle with these issues. Even in nō ’s infancy as sarugaku, these multiple aspects of performance, layered and combined, made writing about the art a daunting task, even for Zeami, one of the founders of the art that became nō.
In Zeami: Performance Notes, Thomas Hare reveals Zeami’s self-reflection on writing about his art, his hesitancy to put his notes on paper although he knew the art thoroughly, and his concern with not only his own writing but the succession of his style of art as it passed to the next generation. Hare firmly grounds Zeami’s work in its sociopolitical context in his introduction. He maintains this contextualization in the individual translations of each text, not only relating the political climate of the period but also relating the text to Zeami’s own path through life, including the growth and development of aesthetic theories and the depth of his religious understanding that infused his work. Hare’s meticulous translation delves into the texts, translating even the notes in the margins that Zeami made after the work had been completed, to give the most complete picture to date of Zeami’s work.
Hare’s work is notable first for the comprehensive translation of all of Zeami’s texts, which he prefers to term “performance notes” instead of “theories” or “treatises.” The great strength of the work overall is Hare’s ability to personalize Zeami’s work, giving us a clear sense of the developing person, a vision of the young Zeami setting down his thoughts on performance, correcting and amending them as his artistry deepened and he grew to a venerated elder performer. Hare accomplishes this by thoroughly analyzing each text, foregrounding it, and explicitly annotating the work. The translations are [End Page 184] clear and straightforward without the opacity that often attends such detailed scholarship. In a few instances, the wrong characters are listed for titles of Zeami’s works, and the presence of both footnotes and endnotes causes moderate confusion. Most terms do not come with the accompanying kanji, which would prove useful to those familiar with Chinese or Japanese. Also, Hare’s propensity for thorough translation led him to list certain terms in two different styles of Romanization, a detail that could be provided in an endnote or appendix. These, however, are minor considerations in this major contribution to Asian theatre scholarship.
Zeami’s texts were brought to the public in 1909, and since that time they have been available in Japanese in various forms, some annotated, some in the original manuscript. Various scholars have undertaken translation of some of the texts into English. The most comprehensive prior to this was Rimer and Yamazaki’s 1984 work On the Art of Nō Drama: The Major Treatises of Zeami (Princeton: Princeton University Press), which presented eight of Zeami’s texts plus one text recorded by his second son. Hare’s work places these texts with the additional work in a chronological timeline, assisting in our ability to view Zeami’s writing as works in progress.
Hare’s volume includes nineteen texts and two letters to Komparu Zenchiku. Over time, Zeami wrote and rewrote his work, refining his thoughts and distributing the work to different audiences. Because of this, the content of some texts translated here have been available in other previously published work. The content of “An Extract from ‘Learning the Flower’” can be found in “A Mirror to the Flower,” and the text of most of “Figure Drawings of the Two Arts and the Three Modes” reappears in “A Course to Attain the Flower” or “Pick Up a Jewel and Take the Flower in Hand.”
Several of the newly translated texts fill a gap in nō scholarship by...