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Zeami's collected theoretical writings, along with those of his son-in-law Komparu Zenchiku, form the primary corpus of nogakuron. Zeami's early treatises are driven by a tension between two contrasting ideals, yugen and monomane. The most prominent aesthetic ideal in Zeami's writings is hana, the Flower. Zeami is famous for his extensive treatment of jo-ha-kyu. Zeami wrote only one treatise on the art of playwriting, The Three Paths. For woman plays, the ideal protagonist roles are Heian court ladies. In an early treatise, Kabu zuinoki, Zenchiku reveals his deep fascination with waka. Zenchiku is best known for his original theoretical construct rokurin ichiro. The treatises of Zeami and Zenchiku provide invaluable insight into the formative years of noh drama. Zeami constantly strives to adjust his art to a level of refinement suitable for his audience. This is evidence of a medieval concern with the process of reception, with affective theory, due to the social nature of the era's dominant literary arts.
This chapter focuses on the scripted elements of the noh plays. The plays of the time of the noted playwright Zeami and his pupils were more constrained in structure. The Okina sarugaku performance tradition shares some elements with that of noh plays, but there are fundamental differences between the two, for example in the structure of their masks and conventions of costume and dance. Sotoba Komachi and Jinen Koji by Kanami and Ukai by Saemon Goro of the Enami troupe may be taken as representative of the Heian period. Zeami's importance in the tradition of noh plays derives not so much from his fame as an actor in his lifetime, but rather from the fact that his style of play came to dominate the later repertoire. The content of his plays reflected the passion of Kyoto high society for the classical literature of the Heian court and the Heike monogatari.
The late medieval period was characterized by a remarkable florescence of the literary, visual, and performing arts. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries saw the rise of a vast new genre of anonymous short fiction or otogizoshi. Both kowakamai and sekkyo, two independent oral genres with roots in early medieval preaching and storytelling, came to possess a recognizable repertoire of tales in the late medieval period. But in their transcribed and illustrated forms these stories are sometimes categorized as otogizoshi, and are thus included in major modern compendiums of all three narrative genres. There is likewise an overlap among sekkyo, kowakamai, otogizoshi, and the seventeenth-century ko-joruri puppet theater, the early plays of which tended to be based on earlier kowakamai, sekkyo, and other katari-mono compositions. By around the late seventeenth century, kowakamai was waning in the shadow of noh; likewise, sekkyo came to be influenced by joruri until it finally disappeared in the early eighteenth century as an independent theatrical form.
Kyogen is Japan's classical comic theater, and also Japan's oldest dialogue-based drama. The earliest precursors to kyogen plays are thought to be irreverent skits performed along with court dances in the Nara and Heian periods. From the early 1400s Zeami and other leaders of noh troupes brought kyogen performers under their organizational umbrella, and kyogen plays have been performed as comic interludes between noh plays from that time until today. The most popular play in the current repertory, Delicious Poison, is one of the few for which one can identify an original literary source. As in the noh drama, kyogen developed many conventions of staging. The kyogen repertory stands as medieval Japan's secular and playful counterpart to the harsh, formal social values intended to govern the lives of Japanese. The core of much kyogen humor is in parody, which deconstructs and inverts specific texts or social types and norms. Kyogen maintained its traditional repertory and functions through World War II.
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