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Reviewed by:
  • Zeami: Performance Notes
  • David Jortner
Zeami: Performance Notes. Translated by Tom Hare. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008; pp. 528. $36.00 cloth.

In reading Tom Hare’s new translation Zeami: Performance Notes several things immediately come to mind. First, what a joy it is to once again sit down and read the theories and ideas of the Nō theatre master Zeami, whose work can capture the imagination like few other theoreticians and whose writings, while applied traditionally to the Nō, resonate with ideas and concepts applicable to contemporary theatre. The second issue takes the form of a question: is this volume necessary? While one great benefit of this text is the translations of Zeami’s often-overlooked songs, especially those written for kusemai performance, one wonders why Hare devoted his considerable talents to creating yet another version of the Fushikaden, Kakyō, and Shikadō, which already exist in multiple translations. Finally, his approach to these translations raises the important question of Hare’s intended audience and the goal of this book. Like other areas in which language, literature, history, and theatre scholarship converge (such as in classical studies), scholarly works on Nō are often directed more toward one discipline than the others. Thus it is with Zeami: Performance Notes, which will serve as an excellent resource for linguists and literary Nō scholars, but that may frustrate nonspecialists unfamiliar with the world of Zeami and medieval Japan.

Hare’s tome is comprised of numerous translations of Zeami’s work with brief introductions and extensive notation. Among the notable works translated are the Fushikaden (which Hare correctly points out is occasionally mis-titled as the Kadenshō), here translated as Transmitting the Flower through Effects and Attitudes, and the Kakyō, translated here as A Mirror to the Flower. Hare spends a great deal of time on the forms of “singing,” including extensive translations of articles on and examples of the “five sorts of singing.” The use of the term singing in English is a bit confusing (although a very accurate translation), as Zeami uses the same term to mean not only the performance of singing, but also song as a genre. What is truly wonderful, however, is that Hare has included both English and Japanese texts for approximately seventy songs. These range from excerpts from well-known plays, such as Matsukaze, Tadanori, and Yoroboshi, to the lesser-known kusemai dance pieces. Kusemai are not only source material and/or parts of Nō plays (usually seen in the fourth dan of the text), but also, as Hare illustrates, a performing art in their own right. A fair [End Page 500] amount of space is devoted to kusemai songs in his translations, and reading them is a delight for any Japanese literary scholar.

Another asset of the book is the way Hare establishes connections between Zeami’s writings and the poetry and religious thought of his time. Illustrating the depth of Zeami’s knowledge, Hare demonstrates how Zeami referenced Buddhist thinkers, classical Japanese poets, and Chinese literature. These connections, indicated primarily in footnotes, give the reader a deeper sense of Zeami’s literary and cultural world.

While the cultural notations and translations of songs and kusemai pieces remain the text’s strong suit, the inclusion of modern Japanese-language versions of these works points to the book’s intended audience. Zeami: Performance Notes, while ostensibly about the art of performance, is far more geared to the advanced scholar of Nō drama and Japanese literature than to the average Western theatre scholar. Unlike other translations of Zeami (such as Rimer and Yamazaki’s On the Art of the Nō Drama, as well as Shelley Fenno Quinn’s Developing Zeami), Hare’s work stresses issues of translation, especially from classical to modern Japanese and then to English. Introductions to the individual writings are brief, with most of the attention given not to explication, but rather to issues of translation. Hare is careful to explain how and why he came to use specific English-language terminology for both modern and classical Japanese terms. In some cases this is a necessity; for example, he discusses the difficulty of translating the concept of yūgen into English. Although...


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pp. 500-501
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