In 2015, during a state visit to the UK, PRC president Xi Jinping pronounced the renowned Ming playwright and scholar Tang Xianzu "the Shakespeare of the East." Prior to this, the association of Tang's work with that of his English contemporary had been already widely acknowledged in the scholarly realm, both Chinese and non-Chinese, although what initially triggered was the curious coincidence of their death year (1616). Recently (2016), Shakespearean scholar Kate McLuskie argued that the most evident connection between Shakespeare and Tang lies in the literariness of their plays. While this is undeniably true, it can only serve as a starting point for undertaking a more comprehensive search for a common ground between the two playwrights.
This paper offers a preliminary analysis of Shakespeare's and Tang's work not only as dramatists but also as ideologues. Rather than a mere comparison of individual plays, it will focus primarily on a series of shared themes, such as the usage of dream and vision, their way of dramatizing the fluctuations of human nature and its eternal struggle between passion and reason, as well as their approach to the comic mode. Works such as The Peony Pavilion, A Dream of the Southern Bough, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Tempest will be mentioned to substantiate the comparison between the two authors' respective ideas and dramatic techniques. Ultimately, this paper aims to set the foundation for the construction of a cross-cultural trajectory to link Shakespeare's comic imagination and Tang's dramatic romances.