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REVIEWS Zeami Motokiyo. On the Art of the No Drama: The Major Treatises of Zeami. Translated by J. Thomas Rimer and Yamazaki Masakazu. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 1984. Pp. liii + 298. Hardcover: $35.00; paperback: $15.00. This is not the first time that J. Thomas Rimer and Yamazaki Masa­ kazu have collaborated with happy results. Several years ago Rimer published his translations of two plays by Yamazaki, one of the outstand­ ing playwrights of contemporary Japan. One of those two plays was Zeami, based on the life of the great writer of no plays who was also the major theoretician of that aristocratic form and an actor and com­ poser as well. It was Zeami who first gave no its theoretical underpinnings and made of it the elegant, refined drama that is so highly respected in Japan and in the West. As Yamazaki points out in his suggestive prefatory essay, Zeami is the first major classical dramatic theoretician in Japan, a counterpart to Aristotle in the West. But Aristotle, so unlike Zeami in many ways, shows little interest in the dynamic relationship between actor and audience, and only touches lightly on the performance aspects of drama. In Zeami’s treatises we find a very sophisticated discussion of the actor’s approach to his art, including the importance of his attitudes toward the spectator. The difference is symptomatic of Western and Asian attitudes toward the theatre. Written in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, the treatises were conceived as private documents to pass on the secrets of no to Zeami’s heirs. For centuries they were kept as secret traditions, remaining unpublished until a manuscript was found by accident in a Tokyo second hand bookstore in 1908. Since then they have been studied, edited, and published in various Japanese editions. The Rimer-Yamazaki translation, however, is the first English volume to include most of the significant treatises. It omits chiefly those essays that are so highly specialized they would be virtually meaningless to a non-specialist, and in some cases even to the scholar, since there is still debate over the fundamental meaning of the musical systems used by Zeami. The treatises included in this handsomely printed volume are: Fushikaden (Teaching on Style and the Flower), Shikado (The True Path to the Flower), Kakyd (A Mirror Held to the Flower), Yugaku shudo fuken (Disciplines for the Joy of Art), Kyui (Notes on the Nine Levels), Shugyoku tokka (Finding Gems and Gaining the Flower), Sando or Nosakusho (The Three Ele­ ments in Composing a Play), Shudosho (Learning the Way), and Sarugaku dangi (An Account of Zeami’s Reflections on Art). The last is not, properly speaking, a treatise by Zeami, but a series of reflections by 181 182 Comparative Drama the master written down by his son. The essays range from practical suggestions on how to structure a no play, to abstruse metaphysical dis­ quisitions on the spiritual attainment of actors who have reached the heights of their art. Two essays precede the translations, one by each of the translators. Rimer deals with the background of the treatises and their history, and Yamazaki with the artistic theories. They rightly stress the treatises’ func­ tion as documents destined for artists who had already achieved a certain level of skill and understanding in the no. This means, of course, that they are sometimes difficult to grasp, particularly those that exhibit Buddhist influence. Even those that do not are colored by the poetic suggestivity that is typical of much Japanese writing. Zeami, for example, is fond of expressing levels of accomplishment metaphorically, as when he describes an achievement as “a blossom blooming on an old tree.” Or he declares that one of the higher levels of acting can be symbolized by the line “Snow covers a thousand mountains; why is there one peak that is not white?” The purpose of this volume is not to explicate all the difficulties of such passages—that is brilliantly done by Mark J. Nearman in the various translations and dense commentary he has published in Monumenta Nipponica (his annotated Kyui, for example, runs to some thirty pages as contrasted to five pages here). On The...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 181-183
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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