The Noh Drama

The Noh Drama

The Noh Drama

The Noh Drama

Excerpt

Noh as an independent and original art form—ultimately destined to supersede the earlier Dengaku, Sarugaku and other song-dances-incorporates the most significant elements of the former and especially of the Kusemai (tune dance). With it a new literary form may be said to have been created. The invention of Noh is attributed to Kwannami Kiyotsugu (1333-1384), a distinguished actor and writer of Sarugaku and to his son Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443), who developed and refined the art under the patronage of Yoshimitsu, the third Ashikaga shogun. In addition to his dramatic activities, Zeami composed a number of works, the most important of which is called the Kwadensho (the Book of the Flower), or more properly, Fūshi-kwadensho in which he explained the nature and æsthetic principles governing Noh plays, and gave detailed instructions concerning the manner of composition, acting, direction, and production of these dramas.

The term Noh used substantively to denote ' accomplishment,' 'skill,' 'talent,' derives from a verb signifying 'to be able,' ' to have the power,' 'to accomplish something,' and was early applied to actors and dancers. Zeami uses the term to designate that unique type of lyrical drama known as Noh which he subsequently defines as 'elegant imitation.' In the work mentioned above the author stresses that this form of art consists of two fundamental elements—dance and song. In composing a Noh play the poet should, therefore, be careful to select personages from the classics—mythical, legendary or historical—who can appropriately execute songs and dances. He also should always keep the lay-out of the stage in his mind's eye and take care that the action develops naturally out of and expresses the mood created by the music, thus perfectly harmonizing music and acting, singing and dancing. In the light of the above, the Noh drama may, in effect, be described also as a lyrico-dramatic tone-poem in which the text has a function somewhat similar to that of the libretto in a Wagner or Debussy opera. The significance of the action, the beauty of the verse, and the excellence of the music and singing, according to Zeami, are purposely designed to ' open the ear' of the mind, while the miming (monomane) and dancing (mai) awaken the emotions of the spectator and ' open his eyes ' to that supreme form of beauty denoted by the word yūgen, which is the ultimate goal and the essen-

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