Feminine Madness in the Japanese Noh Theatre

Document Type

Grant Proposal

Date Accepted

Spring 2011

Project Description/Abstract

This study explores the dynamic nature of Japanese cultural traditions by tracing the development of the “mad female character” in performances of Noh, a traditional genre of Japanese theatre. Throughout the centuries, medieval Noh librettos on the theme of madness have been interpreted and reinterpreted, and plays using this motif have enjoyed popularity. Interpreting the traditions of medieval Noh librettos requires not only understanding not only the relationship of the original Noh text to the socio-cultural and political contexts in which plays were composed, but also the theatrical development in which various art forms such as music, chorus, dance, mimesis, and poetry have come to constitute the total theatre experience of Noh. An interdisciplinary probe of the phenomenon of feminine madness in Noh is effective in unraveling such a complex series of relationships that characterizes the traditional theatre of Japan. I will use this grant to interview performers in order to explore how contemporary Noh performers negotiate medieval Noh texts on the theme of feminine madness. I seek such performers’ opinions about what they bring to their interpretation of these texts of medieval provenance, and how they situate these texts in the larger ecology of their performances.

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