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Unformatted text preview: ere as much of a social
nuisance as the female kabuki performers since they aroused the homosexual passions that had been widespread in Japan (particularly among
samurai and Buddhist priests) from the medieval age on. Finally, in 1652,
after a number of unseemly incidents including public brawls in the
midst of performances over the affections of the actors on stage, the shogunate also banned young men’s kabuki. Henceforth, only adult males (or
youths who had shaved their forelocks to give the appearance that they
were adults) were allowed to perform on the kabuki stage.
Throughout the Tokugawa period, kabuki was subjected to a greater
or lesser degree of official suppression, and this suppression had an extremely important influence on the way in which it developed. Shogunate officials hesitated to ban kabuki entirely for at least two reasons.
First, they regarded kabuki, like the floating world of which it became an
integral part, as a necessary outlet for the more elemental drives of the
masses, even though these grossly offended their Confucian sensibilities. 188 The Flourishing of a Bourgeois Culture And second, they no doubt realized that, like prostitution itself (both
male and female), it could never be completely eradicated and might
just as well be held to some kind of formal account.
The banning of women from kabuki gave rise to the unique personage of the onnagata, or male performer of female roles. So special are the
acting qualities cultivated over the centuries by the onnagata that, even if
women were permitted to perform in kabuki today, they would have
little or no advantage over men in learning the onnagata art.
One of the reasons why young men’s kabuki was not prohibited until
as late as 1652 was that the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu (1604–51),
had a great fondness for the youthful actors. In finally taking the step
after his death, shogunate authorities made clear that, although they
could hardly hope to convert the kabuki actors and their patrons into
puritans, they intended to restrict the extreme promiscuity that had been
so blatantly apparent on the kabuki stage. At the same time that they
banished young men from the...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.
- Spring '13