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Unformatted text preview: the actor in a nò
play can convey yûgen by looking like, behaving like, and speaking like a
No words can adequately capture the drama and emotional impact of
a nò play for the reader who has never actually seen one performed; but
a brief description of a play—Zeami’s haunting Nonomiya or The Shrine
in the Fields—will at least serve to indicate how a work of this form of
medieval Japanese theatre is structured and presented.
The shite or protagonist in The Shrine in the Fields (a woman play) is a
fictional figure from The Tale of Genji, Lady Rokujò, a proud and jealous
lover of Prince Genji. Like so many other plays in the nò repertory, it is
opened by an itinerant priest (the waki ), who announces that he has been
visiting the famous sites of Kyoto and would like to go to nearby Sagano
to see the Shrine in the Fields where each newly appointed vestal virgin
of the Great Shrine at Ise temporarily resided before proceeding to Ise.
By a mere turn of his body, the priest indicates that he has made the
journey to Sagano, and he kneels before the shrine. As he is praying, a
girl enters and, upon questioning, tells the story of how, when Lady
Rokujò was staying at Nonomiya with her daughter who had been
appointed as the Ise virgin, she was visited by Genji. The time of the
year was autumn, the season most dearly cherished in the Japanese tradition because of its many reminders of the inevitable passing of all
things, and the poetic dialogue of The Shrine in the Fields is suffused with
autumnal melancholy and loneliness. By the end of the first scene, it has
become clear to the priest that the girl is actually the ghost of Lady
Rokujò, who is torn between her continuing worldly passion for Genji
and her desire to achieve Buddhist salvation. In the second and last scene,
the shite, who has temporarily exited,26 reappears in the unmistakable
form of Lady Rokujò and dances the shimai, an often protracted dance The Canons of Medieval Taste 117 which constitutes the dramatic climax of the play. At the end of her
dance, Lady Rokujò steps thro...
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- Spring '13