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Stage Directions in the Performance of Yuan Drama Min Tian The origin of Chinese theater can be traced back to its ancient roots in Chinese primitive shamanism. The birth and growth of a fullfledged drama with dialogue, singing, action, and most importantly, impersonation, in medieval China, however, began in the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368),the golden age ofChinese drama. The tradition ofYuan zaju (Yuan poetic and music drama, or literally, "miscellaneous drama") was practicallylost to us in spite ofits short revivals in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911). Little external evidence survived to substantiate a reconstruction ofthe originalconditions andperformance style ofYuan zaju.This essayis a studyoftheperformance ofYuan zajuvis-à-vis its stage directions in the context of its speeches, dialogues, and songs. It draws on an electronic database that I have designed to collect all stage directions marked with ke (indicating action in a stage direction) totaling more than 7,300 with an average ofmore than 45 for each play from the corpus ofYuan zaju that consists of 162 plays. Since Yuan zaju was centered on qu (songs and tunes of songs), bai (spoken prose and poetry) and kewere not considered as nearly important as qu.As a matter offact,theplays (with afewexceptions) in Yuankan zaju sanshizhong (The Thirty Zaju Plays in Yuan Printings), the earliest surviving collection of the thirty Yuan zaju plays printed in the Yuan dynasty, include onlysome incidental prose and a fewdirections marked with ke, and some ofthe plays feature only songs and tunes.While studies in Yuan qu have been systematic and exhaustive and studies in the spoken parts of the Yuan zaju plays so far have been significantly improved , a systematic study of the stage directions as they are used in the corpus ofYuan zaju as a whole has yet to be made.1 397 398Comparative Drama The difficulty ofusing and studying stage directions as internal evidence to the performance ofYuan zaju resides in several critical issues. First,it is the issue ofthe texts ofYuan zaju.We have nowonlythirtyplay scripts that were printed in the Yuan dynasty as some examples of the Yuan zaju as the Yuan audience knew and watched in performance. The texts ofthe majority ofthese plays, however, appear, or were intended to be, incomplete with only a few stage directions and, in some cases, no stage directions at all.The majorityoftheYuan zajuplays are available to us in a number ofMing collections produced during the Ming dynasty. As this study demonstrates in the following,these plays were edited,collated , or revised in varying degrees by Ming scholars and bibliophiles and were, directly or indirectly, derivative from or related to, and thus influenced by, the Ming court performances. Consequently, they may not reflect the original performance ofthe Yuan zaju plays. In addition, the "inconsistent" practice of marking a stage direction with or without ke or the presence or absence of a stage direction in certain scenes in plays from different collections may point to the fact that not all stage directions are reliable sources or evidence. Moreover, the extreme terseness of the majority of the stage directions may not provide enough concrete information on the actual performances. The last critical issue is that some of the stage directions may have been only authorial and editorial decisions and were probably never realized in actual performances . Given these facts and possibilities, however, the Ming collation and revision were primarily focused on the sung and spoken parts and, although stage directions were added or trimmed, the kinds of stage directions and their use do not appear radicallydifferentfrom their counterparts in the Yuankan plays. Because of the high rate of repetition of the same or similar stage directions in different dramatic and scenic situations, those "inconsistencies" in the marking of individual stage directions appear rather insignificant. Furthermore,for the same reason, the conciseness of the stage directions may indeed testify to the existence of established performance conventions and rules available to the contemporary players. Therefore we may gain a substantial understanding of the enactment of those individual actions suggested by the stage directions and the general style ofYuan performance by studying those stage directions in the context of songs, speeches, and characterization. Min Tian399 Historically...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 397-443
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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