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Theatrum Mundi: The Theatrical, The Playful, The Ephemeral

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Chapter Summary

Late Ming-early Qing literati were eager to articulate the social function and signification of theater and produced discourses in various genres exploring how theater signified. The introductory poems of sixteenth and seventeenth century plays, which usually summarize the plot and offer the author's insights on theater, are a good source for understanding the authors' conceptualizations of theatricality. The economic, social, and cultural context of the late Ming and early Qing played an important role in heightening the linkage between the theatrical and the playful. Theatrical spectacles rank at the top of Zhang Dai's remembrances of the past because of their close connection to dreams. For Zhang Dai, the memory of theatrical spectacles was a vivid signifier of the ephemeral, which formed a nostalgic hue in Zhang's mind like the lanterns in the background of a performance. The transient nature of theatrical grandeur made theater itself a popular subject for poeticization.

Keywords: Ming; Qing; theater



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