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Unformatted text preview: stage, the authorities also called upon the
people in kabuki to devote their attention to becoming real actors instead
of just vaudeville-like performers whose main business was illicit sex.
The injunction apparently had some effect, for kabuki thereafter was
gradually transformed into a truly dramatic art. Actors assumed specialized roles (such as those of onnagata), draw curtains were introduced
and plays divided into acts, more scenery and stage props were used, and
the physical theatre was altered and adapted to the special needs of
kabuki. Yet, although the particular prohibitions imposed by the shogunate may have helped it to become a more legitimate form of theatre,
official treatment of kabuki throughout the Tokugawa period as a kind of
necessary evil probably also prevented it from rising to a higher level of
refinement. Kabuki has been and remains a conspicuously plebeian
In kabuki, as it developed from the late seventeenth century, the actor
is supreme. The texts of the plays are hardly more than scenarios or
guides for the actor, who is expected to embellish or alter them as he
sees fit. The typical kabuki play consists of a series of dramatic high
points or tableaux that are made exciting by the broad gesturing, posturing, and declamations of the actors (fig. 54).
Although kabuki prospered in both the Edo and Osaka-Kyoto regions,
it was particularly among the citizens of Edo, whose number included a
far greater percentage of samurai and whose tastes tended to be more
robust and unrestrained, that it enjoyed its greatest patronage. In the
early and mid-seventeenth century, kabuki had competed for popularity
in Edo with the puppet theatre (bunraku), but after a great fire in 1657
had destroyed much of the city and brought about the reconstruction of
the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters in the present-day Asakusa section of
Tokyo, most of the puppet chanters (who were the principal function- The Flourishing of a Bourgeois Culture 189 Fig. 54 Scene from a kabuki play (Japan National...
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- Spring '13