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Buddhist Structures and Secular Themes in Zeami’s Narrative Style

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AbstractThis study is a contribution to the question of the Buddhist character of medieval Nō drama. Previous studies have analyzed references to Buddhism or expressions of Buddhist practices in Nō plays. This study, however, focuses on the discourse through which plays tell their stories. It asks how the stereotypical structure for plays established by Zeami enabled the expression of voices conceived of within a Buddhist world-view. First, techniques used in some early plays to describe Buddhist ideas are considered. Next, the structural conventions developed by Zeami to portray similar subjects are investigated. It is shown how, in plays in which ghosts appear to Buddhist priests (mugen nō), Zeami’s system was well suited to expressing the contrast between the minds of beings on the Buddhist path and those trapped in delusion. Finally, three plays are explored which used these same conventions to represent more complex characters. These can be understood as exhibiting the adequacy of the Buddhist world-view to the expression of wider themes. The last play considered, which describes an elderly poetess, is the most successful. In it, Zeami’s conventions produce both a recognizable portrait of an old woman, whilst at the same time exposing analogies between her predicament and that of deluded ghosts.

Affiliations: 1: University of ArizonaTucsonUSAnoelp@email.arizona.edu

10.1163/22118349-12341258
/content/journals/10.1163/22118349-12341258
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1. Hare Thomas Blenman Zeami’s Style: The Nō Plays of Zeami Motokiyo 1986 California Stanford University Press
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/content/journals/10.1163/22118349-12341258
2013-01-01
2016-12-11

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