The Battles of Coxinga: Chikamatsu's Puppet Play, Its Background and Importance

The Battles of Coxinga: Chikamatsu's Puppet Play, Its Background and Importance

The Battles of Coxinga: Chikamatsu's Puppet Play, Its Background and Importance

The Battles of Coxinga: Chikamatsu's Puppet Play, Its Background and Importance

Excerpt

The Battles of Coxinga is a play in which a Chinese general at the Emperor's court suddenly drives a knife into his left eye, turns it round along the lids, draws out the crimson ball, and ceremonially offers it to the Great King of Tartary's envoy, who accepts it reverently. In the same play a Chinese princess drifts in a small boat to the shores of Japan, where she is found by the hero and his wife in lamentable condition: her sleeves are wet with the sea-winds and the rouge and powder have been washed from her face, which nevertheless still looks like an hibiscus flower. Later on, back in China, the hero's sister needs to send a message to him from the interior of a castle which she cannot leave and he cannot enter. He is expecting either a red signal or a white one. Circumstances are such that Kinshōjo, the sister, can send only her own blood. She does so, through a conduit, and determines the destiny of an empire. This destiny has previously been served in an even more astonishing fashion: the Empress of China having been murdered while pregnant, a statesman of the court kills his own child and substitutes it for the royal child whom a Cæsarean operation has left living; for it must appear to the Tartars that the Empress has died without issue.

The justification of these horrors, even for a Western reader who knows Œdipus Rex and King Lear, is that The Battles of Coxinga is a puppet play, performed to the continuous accompaniment of instrumental music and the trained voice of a narrator who does all the speaking. Which calls for a great deal of exegesis, both critical and historical; and Mr. Keene, along with his admirable translation of Chikamatsu's masterpiece, has amply responded to the call. His accounts of Chikamatsu, of the narrator who chanted the text, of . . .

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