Article Title

Dramatic Elements in Japanese Literature


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

In writing about the dramatic elements in Japanese literature one is confronted by a paradox: much of the literature expressly written for the theatre is conspicuously non-dramatic, at least by conventional standards, but there is a strong dramatic element in many works never intended for the theatre.· Some of the most admired Japanese plays are little more than dances with only a rudimentary plot to sustain the attention, yet they succeed because of their visual beauty or the special atmosphere they engender. On the other hand, when reading a work like the fourteenth-century Masukagami, ostensibly a history, we cannot but be struck by the poignantly dramatic nature not only of the incidents related but of the structure of the narrative itself. The Nō play Shakkyō, though exciting as a spectacle, lacks dramatic form; but the chapter of Masukagami describing the journey into exile of the Emperor Godaigo has a sustained, dramatic intensity; not only are the details of the journey and of Godaigo's life in Oki chosen with extraordinary sensitivity to their dramatic values, but there is an effective theatrical counterpoint between the descriptions of the loneliness of Godaigo and his court in Oki and the festivities in Kyoto attending the coronation of the new sovereign. Indeed, the term dramatic, normally used in connection with the theatre, can be used in the case of Japanese literature with equal propriety of historical writings, novels, and even certain nonliterary works, and drama by no means implies dramatic.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.