TDR: The Drama Review 44.1 (2000) 183-187
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The No Plays of Japan: An Anthology
Traditional Japanese Theater: An Anthology of Plays
The No Plays of Japan: An Anthology. By Arthur Waley. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1998; 288 pp. $9.95 paper.
Traditional Japanese Theater: An Anthology of Plays. Edited by Karen Brazell. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998; 561 pp. $49.50 cloth.
When two editions of The N o Plays of Japan by Arthur Waley first appeared seven decades ago, they were pioneering works (1921, 1922). 1 Along with Ernest Fenollosa and Ezra Pound's 'Noh,' or Accomplishment: A Study of the Classical Stage of Japan (1916, Macmillan), Waley's anthology of 19 plays, with summaries of an additional 17 plays, was one of the first introductions in English to the librettos of this dance-drama. As the publisher of The N o Plays of Japan: An Anthology explains in a "Bibliographical Note": "This Dover edition, first published in 1998, contains the unabridged and unaltered text" of the 1922 edition (6). More will be said below about this most recent incarnation of Waley's classic.
Traditional Japanese Theater: An Anthology of Plays, edited by Karen Brazell, promises to become a classic as well. It brings together translations by 17 scholars (including the editor) of plays in the repertories of noh, ky ogen, the puppet theatre and kabuki. It also introduces the more locally based traditions of Kurokawa noh, Mibu kyogen, kowaka, and the Awaji puppet theatre. Many of the translations have appeared elsewhere previously, but to dwell on that point would be to overlook the original contributions that this book makes to Japanese studies and to theatre studies in general. The inclusion in this volume of selections from a composite of theatre arts is a fresh approach that breaks precedent with the genre-specific organization that has been the norm for most prior anthologies of Japanese plays. The advantages of this approach go far beyond expedience, for the broader scope allows the editor to examine the arts in relation to each other and to situate them in larger cultural and aesthetic traditions and practices. Brazell does this with insight and deftness.
In her "Preface," Brazell notes that, although poetic anthologies may be a highly developed art in Japan, anthologies of plays are not. The very idea of a theatre anthology is alien to traditional genre classifications: "In earlier eras, these theatrical forms were vaguely connected as performance arts (geino), but only in modern times have scholars and theatre people begun to consider them part of a single literary or artistic category, what we in the West call 'drama'" (xi). She concedes that the concept "traditional Japanese theatre" may therefore be anachronistic, but argues that, "looked at as a group, these plays reveal a great deal about the nature of each genre, and their common characteristics, techniques, and aesthetics present a type of theatricality different from that of Western Europe" (xi).
Brazell also clarifies that she has chosen well-known plays that have literary appeal and that are regularly performed "in the hope that readers will encounter them in other contexts and even see them performed as international productions become more commonplace" (xii). Indeed, this anthology includes some of the most popular plays in each repertory. Consistent with this performance-sensitive [End Page 183] approach, the editor and the translators provide detailed descriptions of stage business with documentation of the specific performances on which that information is based. Furthermore, both the editor's explanatory narratives and the translations are generously illustrated with black-and-white photographs that aid greatly in visualizing the staging of the plays.
Traditional Japanese Theater divides into three parts. Part One opens with an introductory chapter of 40 pages, "Japanese Theater: A Living Tradition," which gives a historical overview of all the arts introduced, and discusses qualities that they share. As the first "General Characteristic," Brazell points out how "the text speaks itself," citing the fluidity of narrative stance...