In the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries

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Unformatted text preview: orth on a michiyuki or “lovers’ journey” to their deaths at Sonezaki Shrine. As a writer of domestic plays for the puppet theatre, Chikamatsu was, like Saikaku, a major chronicler of townsman life during the Genroku epoch. Unlike Saikaku, who in his townsman works examined virtually all aspects of the behavioral patterns and standards of value of the emergent bourgeoisie of Tokugawa Japan, Chikamatsu concerned himself chiefly with the lives of lower-class townsmen and specifically with the conflict between duty or obligation (giri) and the dictates of human feelings (ninjò) to which the members of all classes were subject in this feudal age. Even though Chikamatsu is famous for his treatment of this giri-ninjò conflict, it is not in fact so strongly presented in his plays as it is in other literary works of the Tokugawa period, such as vendetta stories in which samurai unhesitatingly forsake their own personal interests and even sacrifice their lives to meet the exacting demands of their warrior’s code of honor. Tokubei and Ohatsu of The Love Suicides at Sonezaki, although 192 The Flourishing of a Bourgeois Culture in difficult straits, do not seem to be under any unique or overwhelming pressure to act as they do. Rather, they appear to be neurotically obsessed with the “purity” of their love for each other and with the religious urge to perpetuate it through death for Buddhist eternities to come. In later “love suicide” plays, Chikamatsu made the pressure of giri more explicit; even so, his favorite theme might better be described as one of “all for love” rather than of fundamental conflict between duty and human feelings. The literary high point of the love suicide play is the michiyuki, the journey of the lovers to their predetermined fate. Chikamatsu’s michiyuki passages are composed in richly textured and often hauntingly beautiful poetry. Perhaps the most memorable is the one from The Love Suicides at Sonezaki, which begins: Narrator: Farewell to this world, and to the night farewell. We who walk the road to death, to what should we be likened? To the frost by the road t...
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