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Lecture 1 - Wang Shiyao, “Enquiry of the Rat” (“Fangshu” 訪鼠) from Fifteen Strings of Cash (Shiwu guan 十五貫)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 January 2023

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Summary

Recorded on 21 October 2010

Translated and annotated by Anne Rebull

Actor

Wang Shiyao 王世瑤 (1939–2020) was a Zhejiang Troupe performer and the son of Wang Chuansong 王傳淞, a member of the legendary “chuan” generation (chuan zi bei 傳字輩) [both Appendix H] of kunqu 崑曲 performers. Like his father, many of whose roles he inherited, Wang Shiyao was a leading chou 丑 of his era.

Synopsis

Fifteen Strings of Cash (Shiwu Guan 十五貫) is a play by the Suzhou-based, early Qing dramatist Zhu Suchen 朱素臣, drawing on earlier vernacular stories by Feng Menglong 馮夢龍 and Li Yu (II) 李漁 [all Appendix H] that themselves were based on the historical figure Kuang Zhong 况鍾. The version of Fifteen Strings of Cash that is performed onstage today is a heavily revised and abridged 1956 adaptation of Zhu Suchen's version by the Zhejiang Kunqu Troupe (Zhejiang sheng Kunju tuan 浙江省崑劇團) [Appendix I]. This adaptation is considered “a centerpiece of drama reform” (Fox 2019, 385; see also Scott 1969; Ji Hu 1985; Rebull 2017a) and also became a popular xiqu 戲曲 film (Rebull 2017b). Its success was in large part due to the approval of senior People's Republic of China (PRC) officials, including Zhou Enlai (1989, 204), who praised it as “rich in ideological content, because it stigmatizes subjectivism and bureaucratism.”

Wu Xinlei (2002, 120–22) provides a summary of both the full original play and of the individual zhezixi 折子戲 derived from it, as they appear in kunqu repertoire. One of the first translations of any kunqu performance text into English was that of the Foreign Languages Press in 1957, although A. C. Scott's 1969 translation is more widely available (Chu Su-chen 1957; Scott 1969). Scott had seen the play performed in Beijing in 1956 and his text contains one of the earliest extensive descriptions of kunqu in English, providing photographs, extensive stage directions, and descriptions of costumes.

The original Qing script concerns two brothers who are condemned to death because they are falsely accused of complicity in murder cases.

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2022

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