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social circles in Kyoto, these two men elevated and refined sarugaku to a
dramatic art of great beauty and sublimity that could appeal to the most
aristocratic of sensibilities.
Kan’ami and Zeami were not only actors but also playwrights; and
many of the finest plays in the nò repertory can either positively or with
reasonable assurance be attributed to their brushes. Zeami, moreover,
was an outstanding critic of his day and has left invaluable commentaries
on medieval aesthetic and dramatic tastes, tastes that he himself was so
influential in molding.
When Zeami first met Yoshimitsu in 1374 he had been a mere child
of eleven, and quite likely it was his physical beauty as much as anything
that first attracted the shogun, who had a particular fondness for pretty
boys. After Yoshimitsu’s death in 1408, Zeami and his school of nò were
temporarily forced into eclipse by those in the shogunate who resented
the extraordinary privileges he had previously received. But the popularity
of nò was by this time too firmly established to be readily destroyed.
Before long, it was once again in favor with the Ashikaga shoguns and
enjoyed their patronage for the remainder of the medieval age.
Donald Keene has defined nò as “a dramatic poem concerned with The Canons of Medieval Taste Fig. 32 115 Scene from a nò play (Japan National Tourist Organization) remote or supernatural events, performed by a dancer, often masked, who
shares with lesser personages and a chorus the singing and declamation
of the poetry.”24 The main dancer or actor is known as the shite, and the
lesser personages include the waki or “side person,” who usually introduces the play and asks the questions that induce the shite to tell his
story, and one or more tsure (companions) (fig. 32).
To the uninitiated, nò can seem painfully slow and its plots so thin as
to be almost nonexistent. Moreover, there is little if any attempt made in
nò to be realistic. It is a theatre of symbolism, employing highly stylized,
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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