Voices from the Past: Symbolic Madness in the Noh Play Kinuta, the Fulling Block

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Traditional Japanese theater has its roots going back hundreds of years. Noh theater has a particularly rich theatrical aesthetic heritage that offers an insight into Japanese history and culture. The dynamic nature of Noh plays comes together as negotiations between forces and perspectives in the political, cultural and aesthetic realms. This article explores the tradition of Noh with an emphasis on symbolic feminine madness, its recurring theme. It is examined here how madness, or an altered and uncontrolled state of consciousness, came to be associated with the feminine in Noh, and how medieval playwrights articulated social issues featuring feminine madness. In the Noh play Kinuta (The Fulling Block), for example, woman's desire and suffering are expressed within the constraints of the Buddhist belief, prevalent in medieval Japanese society, that women are susceptible to strong emotional attachments and resentment. In Kinuta and many other Noh plays composed or revised by Zeami Motokiyo (1363?-1443?), a female protagonist divulges her suffering, which is due to unmitigated devotion to her loved one. The confessional act at once allows her release from the attachments that have plagued her, while promoting the concept of Buddhist salvation. It is within constraints such as these that feminine passion is displayed in writing and in performance. Nevertheless, the poetic, sorrowful tone of the woman's lamentations artistically obscures a poignant protest against oppression, presenting suffering and desire within pre-established social constraints.

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Savas, M. (2013). Voices from the Past: Symbolic Madness in the Noh Play Kinuta, the Fulling Block. Japan Studies Association Journal, 11, 144-157.

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