Four Major Plays of Chikamatsu

Four Major Plays of Chikamatsu

Four Major Plays of Chikamatsu

Four Major Plays of Chikamatsu

Excerpt

In the late nineteenth century, when Japanese first became aware of the glories of Western literature, they felt impelled to discover a "Japanese Shakespeare." Their unanimous choice for this honor was Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725), an unfortunate identification from which Chikamatsu's reputation in the West has suffered since. Western readers who hope that Chikamatsu will prove a second Shakespeare are bound to be disappointed: there never lived a second Shakespeare. Chikamatsu's plays offer instead a vivid picture of a unique age in Japan, and have a special importance among the dramas of the world in that they constitute the first mature tragedies written about the common man.

One reason why comparisons between Chikamatsu and the dramatists of Europe are meaningful only intermittently is that he lived in a society virtually scaled off from the rest of the world. During the period of his career Japanese subjects were forbidden by law to journey abroad, and the only visitors to Japan were a handful of Chinese and Dutch traders carefully isolated at the port of Nagasaki. Chikamatsu never read a foreign play, and he knew nothing of the theater outside his country. Because, unlike most European dramatists, he shared no traditions with writers abroad, his plays sometimes astonish us by a modernity not encountered in the West for another century or more, and sometimes equally by a violence or an uncontrolled fantasy which we associate with a more primitive theater. But this seeming modernity or primitivity is misleading, and really means only that Chikamatsu's development in isolation did not follow the course of the drama in Europe.

Another important difference dividing Chikamatsu from European playwrights was that he wrote his major works for the puppet theater. The special demands of this theater obliged Chikamatsu to conceive . . .

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