Unformatted text preview: n a vendetta inasmuch as Kira had not killed anyone but had himself been the
victim of attempted murder. Nevertheless, whether or not Kira was a
proper object of revenge, the rònin were certainly motivated by its spirit
and, in the Japanese tradition, came to be idolized as the supreme
The 1748 puppet play Chûshingura, while of course based on the rònin
story, is a vastly elaborated and complex tale with many subplots that includes an array of fictional characters in addition to the rònin themselves.
Perhaps most striking about this tale is that, despite its complexity of plot,
it has been thoroughly cleansed of all the ambiguities of the historical
events of 1701–2. The rònin and others who support them are, from start
to finish, motivated by only two sentiments: loyalty (for their lord) and
revenge. The Kira character9 is a thoroughly despicable, evil man whose
death cannot come too soon, and the rònin, led by the Kuranosuke character, do not for a moment think about saving their lord’s house, their
personal honor, or anything other than revenge. They plan, moreover, to
cap their vendetta—the killing of the Kira character—with the ultimate
act of loyalty, their own suicides. The play says nothing about the rònin
being arrested by the shogunate and awaiting a decision about their fate.
Instead, it ends with them setting off to the temple where their lord is
buried to commit suicide before his grave.
I believe that much, if not most, of the popularity of the forty-seven
rònin story and the impetus that transformed it into the Chûshingura
legend derived from the fact that, at a time (the Genroku epoch) when
the samurai spirit was thought to be at its nadir, a group of rònin acted
in accordance with what was perceived to be its finest values. Chûshingura, although obviously known to be a largely fictionalized version of the
rònin story, removed all the shadings and motivational uncertainties from
the story and rendered it a pure celebration of the samurai way.
At least one contemporary of the rònin, however, was not impr...
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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 UBC.
- Spring '13