Chikamatsu Monzaemon is among the most famous of Edo period playwrights, sometimes even being called "the Japanese Shakespeare.
Who was Chikamatsu Monzaemon?
Chikamatsu, whose real name was Fujiwara or Sugimori Nobumori, was born into a minor samurai family in Echizen province. He spent a brief time as a monk, then returned to secular life, entering the service of a court noble in Kyoto , before establishing himself in Osaka in His birthplace is disputed; the most likely theory says that he was born in Echizen province, but other candidates include Hagi, in Nagato province.
His father, Sugimori Nobuyoshi, served the daimyo feudal lord Matsudaira, in Echizen, as a medical doctor. Chikamatsu's younger brother also became a medical doctor and Chikamatsu himself wrote a book about health care. In those days, doctors who served daimyo held samurai status. His father lost his office and became a ronin , abandoning his feudal duties sometime between and During his teens, Chikamatsu moved with his father to Kyoto, where he served for a few years as a page for a noble family and court aristocracy.
Otherwise, this period of Chikamatsu's life is obscure; he published his first known literary work in this period, a haiku published in After serving as a page, he next appeared in records of the Chikamatsu Temple long suggested as the origin of his stage name "Chikamatsu" in Omi Province.
CHIKAMATSU MONZAEMON I
In , his puppet play on the Soga brothers The Soga Successors or " The Soga Heir "; Yotsugi Soga was first performed in Kyoto, and Chikamatsu became known as a playwright; The Soga Successors is believed to have been Chikamatsu's first play, although fifteen earlier anonymous plays are sometimes attributed to Chikamatsu as well. From until , almost everything Chikamatsu wrote was a kabuki play, and then he abruptly abandoned that media almost completely.
In , Chikamatsu left Kyoto for Osaka, where the puppet theater was even more popular. Chikamatsu's popularity peaked with his plays about love-suicides, and with the blockbuster success of The Battles of Coxinga in Thereafter the tastes of patrons turned to more sensational gore-fests and crude antics; Chikamatsu's plays fell into disuse and the music for many of his plays was lost.
Chikamatsu was the first known Japanese playwright who did not also act in the pieces he wrote. It is thought that Chikamatsu wrote a total of around one hundred thirty plays. In Japanese literature and music , joruri is a type of chanted recitative; often the script for a bunraku puppet drama, performed by a tayu chanter accompanied by a musician. At first joruri was accompanied by a four-string biwa Japanese lute ; after the introduction of the three-stringed, plucked samisen or shamisen from the Ryukyu Islands in the sixteenth century, both the music and the scripts developed.
When puppets were added at the end of the sixteenth century, the joruri took on a new dramatic quality, depicting themes such as loyalty, vengeance, filial piety, love, and religious miracles and placing more emphasis on dialogue and descriptive commentary. The chanter, or tayu , had more authority than the writer of the script, until the appearance of Chikamatsu Monzaemon, in the late seventeenth century.
A thirty-year collaboration between Chikamatsu and the tayu Takemoto Gidayu — raised the puppet theatre to a high art. Uji Za had retained the playwright Ihara Saikaku , one of the most brilliant figures of the seventeenth-century revival of Japanese literature. He delighted readers with racy accounts of the amorous and financial affairs of the merchant class and the demimonde.
Zeami and his father, Kan'ami —84 , were the creators of Noh drama in its present form. The boy is at the time staying with an aunt. A short while later, the villains visit the prostitutes, looking for Sukewaka. After the two women pretend to be in love with them, the murderers try to enlist their help in killing Onio and Dosaburo.
Hiding inside large chests, they wait for the two retainers to show up. But when Onio and Dosaburo arrive, they are accompanied by an enormously strong friend, who places large boulders on the chests. When one of the villains tries to get out, he is crushed to death by the weight of the stones. The second villain is taken captive, and the victors leave for the capital to celebrate. In the final scene, the surviving villain is released so as not to mar the festivities with bloodshed. Sukewaka is given the Soga family lands. The emperor's consort declares that she has come to realize that prostitutes, far from being debased creatures, are in fact the models of fidelity in love.
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At the emperor's request, the prostitutes do an improvisational dance to retrace the history of courtesans. At the end of the play Sukewaka and his mother exit amid assurances that the Soga clan will flourish for years to come. Chikamatsu's next puppet play, entitled Shusse Kagekiyo Kagekiyo Victorious , was written for a younger rival of Kaganojo in In the play, Kagekiyo's mistress learns that her lover is going to marry a woman of high birth. Out of revenge, she betrays Kagekiyo's hiding place to his enemies. After Kagekiyo is captured and bound, his mistress appears before him with their two sons to beg his apology.
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But he disowns his children, and she kills the children and then herself before his eyes. In the final scene, it is revealed that the goddess Kannon has substituted her own head for Kagekiyo's at his execution, so Kagekiyo is safe. He then makes peace with his old enemy.
Kabuki is a form of Japanese drama in which the actors use stylized movements, dances, and songs to perform comedies or tragedies.
Many critics feel that Chikamatsu's early kabuki plays were inferior to his puppet plays, possibly because he had to write for conventional roles that did not allow for the complexity of some of his puppet characters. Chikamatsu wrote most of his plays for the kabuki theatre between and Although he had written Yugiri Shichiren Ki The Seventh Anniversary of Yugiri's Death in , in the ensuing four years he wrote mostly for the puppet theatre. The play was written to coincide with the public display of a secretly kept statue of Buddha at a famous temple.
The strength of the play derived from the freedom it gave to the actors to display their own particular strengths. In this play within a play, a loyal retainer is assigned the role of a woman.
The Complete Works of Chikamatsu
So disguised, the retainer overhears a plan by his master's stepmother and her brother to steal the family treasure, a religious statue. Pursuant to winning the villains' confidence, the retainer is required to kill his daughter to protect his master's reputation. In , Chikamatsu shifted his efforts back to the puppet theatre. He may have been motivated by the departure of the actor who appeared in his kabuki works from the stage, or possibly by the tendency of kabuki actors to take liberties with his text while performing his works.
In any case, Chikamatsu's decision to return to the puppet theatre would have long-lasting impact. It meant, for example, that the puppet theatre would be the most popular form of drama for the next 50 years because it would be puppets who performed the works of the country's pre-eminent dramatist. At the time that Chikamatsu was writing, audiences were accustomed to spending an entire day at the puppet theatre and were not always attentive to everything that was happening on the stage. For Chikamatsu, the challenge of the puppet theatre was to impart lifeless puppets with a variety of emotions and thereby capture the audience's attention.
Chikamatsu did not hesitate to have his characters say things that a real person would not utter in order to maximize the pleasure in the play's performance. Chikamatsu scored a major success in with a play about a lovers' double suicide entitled Sonezaki Shinju The Love Suicides at Sonezaki.