Article Title

Stage Directions in the Performance of Yuan Drama


Min Tian


Drawing on an electronic database designed by the author to collect all stage directions marked with ke indicating action in a stage direction and totaling more than 7300, this essay offer a systematic study of the performance of Yuan zaju in the context of its speeches, dialogues, and songs. The study examines two categories of extant texts---those printed in the Yuan dynasty and later collections published during the Ming dynasty---and offers a detailed analysis of a great number and variety of stage directions from the entire corpus of Yuan zaju. These directions provide ample evidence of all important aspects of the actual art of Yuan zaju, including performance and staging. In sharp contrast to modern drama, especially those claimed to be natural and realistic, Yuan zaju’s oft-repeated directions call for certain physical actions, emotional or psychological states in a very cryptic way by providing signals or shorthand for acting out scenic and staging conventions in given dramatic situations.

The performance and style of Yuan zaju were formed by a system of conventional methods and practices, combining, among other things, conventionalized postures, gestures, and bodily movements in singing, speaking, and the actions of the player, as well as the signifying function of language pronounced in the players’ vocalizations and enacted in the imaginations of playgoers. A significant component of Yuan zaju, stage directions enable us to understand how these plays may actually have been performed.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.