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Reviewed by:
  • Zeami: Performance Notes
  • Eric C. Rath
Zeami: Performance Notes. Translated by Tom Hare. Columbia University Press, 2008. 528 pages. Hardcover $45.00/£31.00.

Since the early seventeenth century, Zeami Motokiyo (ca. 1363–1443) has been considered noh theater's greatest playwright; with the rediscovery in the twentieth century of his artistic writings about play composition, actor training, and aesthetics, he has been confirmed as the art's foremost theorist. Zeami: Performance Notes, a book of translations by Tom Hare of Zeami's treatises, brings to English readers a clearer understanding of the playwright's wider contribution to noh and to Japanese culture. Hare is one of the foremost scholars responsible for elucidating Zeami for English readers. The present work builds on his earlier study Zeami's Style: The Noh Plays of Zeami Motokiyo (Stanford University Press, 1986). In that volume, the first monograph on Zeami in English, Hare bridged the gap between Zeami's plays and the ideas he presented in his treatises, focusing on his playwriting and theatrical representation in the "three modes" of performance: aged male (rōtai), woman (nyotai), and martial (guntai). The book included a "documentary bibliography," which remains a useful overview of Zeami's life. The introduction in Zeami: Performance Notes provides a shorter summary of Zeami's contributions and his artistic ideas, along with the basics of noh history and performance.

The collection of twenty-one Zeami writings that follows greatly enhances recent English scholarship on nōgakuron—the performance theories of Zeami and his younger contemporary, Konparu Zenchiku (1405–1470?). Most pertinent of such recent studies to this review is Shelley Quinn's Developing Zeami: The Noh Actor's Attunement in Practice (University of Hawai'i Press, 2005). Hare's translations may be compared with two previous collections: On the Art of the Noh Drama: The Major Treatises of Zeami (Princeton University Press, 1984), a presentation coauthored by J. Thomas Rimer and Yamazaki Masakazu of nine of Zeami's treatises, and Zeami's Talks on Sarugaku (Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben, 1986), Erika de Poorter's translation of Zeami's memoir, Sarugaku dangi, a central text that also appears in the Rimer and Yamazaki volume. Hare's collection includes eight of the texts previously translated by Rimer and Yamazaki, but he does not retranslate Sarugaku dangi.

In place of nōgakuron, which he finds to be a vague term and a misnomer—since Zeami in fact wrote about sarugaku, the predecessor to noh—Hare labels Zeami's writings "performance notes," implying a direct correlation between theory and practice, closer to the plays than the librettos, which Hare calls an "afterthought to the performance" (p. 2). Hare based his translations on Zeami, Zenchiku, ed. Omote Akira and Katō Shūichi (NST 24), in contrast to Rimer and Yamazaki, who relied on that volume for their notes, but took their texts from two compilations that are now considered less authoritative: Nōgakuronshū, ed. Nishino Minoru (NKBT 65) and Zeami jūroku bushū hyōshaku, ed. Nose Asaji (Iwanami Shoten, 1966). [End Page 390]

In another contrast to earlier translations, Hare endeavors to convey Zeami's "idiolect," portraying how Zeami wrestled with key terms and sought to incorporate Chinese compounds, creating run-on sentences and awkward expressions in the process. These Hare chooses to retain in his translation rather than smooth away, and he goes so far as to include marginal comments and passages that have been crossed out in the originals, providing readers with a better feel than earlier translations for the manuscripts as Zeami composed them. We discover a less polished and, as Hare calls him, a more self-conscious Zeami, but Hare's rendering of Zeami's language is, overall, fresh and direct.

Of course, Zeami did not have to worry about making sense to a wider public, because he wrote nearly all of his works for the sake of just one or two people. Hare gives us a sense of these writings visually, by providing photographs of most of the texts included in his anthology. Appendix 2 is a short history of how the manuscripts were transmitted, preserved, and rediscovered. The third appendix, "Zeami's Languages," provides Hare's further...


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