Kuritz, Paul The Making of Theatre HistoryÂ Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Ha1l 1988. $78.00.This ambitious and thoughtful text devotes fifty-three pages (over 11 percent of its space) to selected classical theatre genres of India, China, and Japan. The cultural background is extraordinarily clear and generally well written, so the occasional mistakes stand out. Because so much of this chapter is excellent, it is a shame that Southeast Asia and significant genres such as bunraku, kathakali, and modern theatre were omitted, If Kuritz errs in emphasis, it may be in giving too much cultural background and not enough analysis of specific plays. But since most professors will focus lectures and discussions on scripts, this cultural overview can serve as a valuable grounding for further analysis.
Kuritz opens with an insightful summary of significant philosophical distinctions between Asia and Europe, and then begins a detailed exploration of the origins of Sanskrit performance, Throughout the chapter he quotes liberally and intelligently from unimpeachable sourcesâ€”both primary and secondary. He covers the influence of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam on Sanskrit theatre, as well as the impact of social, philosophical, literary, dramaturgical, and performative elements, In this context, he considers such diverse topics as the role of the devadasi (sacred female dancers) and precise aspects of actor training as specified by the Natyasastra. He is somewhat confusing in his description of rasa, however, and I simply do not understand what he means when he states: “As in the classical world of the West, prose literature was unknown in India until it was introduced by Europeans” (p. 71). I find it disconcerting that this fine introduction to Sanskrit theatre fails to summarize even a single plot. Only in the final two sentences (plus a parenthetical reference) does Kuritz even mention the existence of kathakali, bharatanatyatn, kathak, and manipuri as “the four main modem â€˜classicalâ€™ theatres, who claim direct descent from Indiaâ€™s classical theatre” (p. 83). The virtual omission of living forms of dance-drama, religious pageants, folk genres, and modern drama seems to imply that Indiaâ€™s theatrical tradition is a dead one. This implication is reinforced by a stylistic choice which continues in the sections on China and Japan. Kuritz continually uses the past tense, This usage gives the false impression that Peking opera, no, and kabuki are no longer performed.
The segment on Chinese theatre also focuses primarily on a single genre but broadens its coverage to include both antecedents and descendants of Peking opera. Kuritz begins intelligently with a deliberation of the unique tenets of Chinese civilization, the ritual origins of theatre, foot binding, and an enlightening portrait of Chinaâ€™s phillosophical and religious heritage. He makes the valuable distinction that whereas Indian theatre developed from dance, Chinese theatre emerged from song. Kuritz attempts to use pinyin consistently but makes several spelling errors. For example, the Zhou dynasty is mistakenly written “Zhow,” the Tang dynasty appears as “Dang,” and the Qing dynasty becomes â€˜jing.” The Qianlong emperor becomes “Jyan Long.” Although this emperorâ€™s dates are correctly noted as 1735â€” 1796, he is referred to as belonging to the Yuan dynasty (1279â€”1368). Other errors include the assertion that the first reference to Peking opera occurred during the Tang dynasty (p. 87)â€”a mistake of about one thousand years. References to the 1911 Republican revolution, which overthrew the Qing dynasty, are followed immediately by a discussion of the 1966â€”1976 Cultural Revolution, which might confuse a student who did not know that the communist government gained control in 1949 (p. 89). Mei Lanfang is misspelled “Mel Lan Feng” (p. 91), a Chinese garment is referred to by the Japanese word “kimono” (p. 93), and there are several inconsistencies regarding when female performers were permitted or forbidden on stage in China.
The portion on Japan, like the previous two segments, presents a clear introduction to the cultural and religious context of theatre.
This segment contains more factual errors than the others, however, The discussion of the mythological and ritual origins of Japanese PT formance is marred by confusion regarding the names of the deities involved: the correct name of the sun goddess is Amaterasu; the star- ding dancer is Uzume (pp. 96â€”97). The Heian period is twice referred to as “Heinan” (p. 98). The name of Zeamiâ€™s nephew Onâ€™ami, originally called Kanze Motoshige, is misspelled “Motoshiga” (p. 99). Kuritz maintains that the Kadensho is Zeamiâ€™s only treatise and that “because his son died, and Zeami had no successor, Kadens/zo remained lost until 1908″ (p. 99). In reality, Zeamiâ€™s twenty-one treatises remained the private property of nO actors; only in the twentieth century did they come into the possession of scholars. He later maintains there a.re “twenty-one authentic no works” (p. 103). While he is surely referring to Zeamiâ€™s treatises, the reader could easily believe he means that there are only twenty-one nO plays. Later, he suggests there were twenty-three treatises (p. 109).
Kuritz provides an excellent analysis of such key aesthetic concepts as monomane, yugen, and hana (pp. 103â€”105) but maintains, incorrectly, that all no plays are memory or ghost plays (p. 110). He is mistaken in asserting that a narrator tells the story in kyogen (p. 105) and that all kyogen are about master/servant relationships (p. 110). He also seems unable to distinguish between the ai-kyogen in nO and distinct kyogen plays (p. 109), Kuritz asserts that Japan was isolated for “the entire sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (p. 100). The main laws imposing the closed door policy were promulgated between 1633 and 1636; Japanâ€™s complete isolation lasted until the middle of the nineteenth century. Although kabuki and bunraku certainly share plots derived from various sources, including nO, history, and literature, Kuritz maintains that bunraku was the primary origin for kabuki (p. 100). Okuni, the originator of kabuki, was a female dancer from Izumo, here misspelled as “Ozumo” (p. 100). Kuritz only considers aragoto kabuki (the roughhouse style associated with Edo and the Ichikawa acting family). Readers would have a false impression of kabuki if they believed Kuritzâ€™s extraordinary comment that “courtesans and supermen walked on stilts” (p. 112). He states that Chikamatsu wrote for bunraku before turning to kabuki (p. 117); actually, he wrote for both genres simultaneously, eventually abandoning kabuki to write exclusively for the dolls. I am not sure what Kuritz means when he states that “kabuki actors got their name from the noh” (p. 110). When Kuritz states that kabuki staging “used conventions that combined the noh and nineteenth-century Western illusionism,” I assume he is trying to describe the look to a Western audience. The phrasing could be confusing, however, since it seems to imply Western influence(p. 113). Kuritz does not discuss bunraku except as a “source” for kabuki. In a lapse of organizational clarity, after discussing the history and development of no and kabuki he reverts to lengthy discussions of nO performance, kyogen, and Zeami, and then returns to kabuki performance, actors, and audience.
Although there are significant errors and omissions in this book, the material is well chosen and generally correct. Despite a fine analysis of cultural/religious background and often excellent descriptions of aesthetic and theatrical theory, Kuritz fails to impress the reader with the sheer joy and excitement of theatre. The main problem is that the living forms themselves seem absent. This absence is not merely the result of an exclusive focus on traditional genres or his use of the past tense. Rather, it seems to be due to the authorâ€™s inability to imaginatively place himself at these plays. Perhaps it is due also to his failure to consider the scripts themselves, The result is a chapter which seems dry.
from Desperately seeking Asia: A Survey of Theatre History Textbooks by Carol Sorgenfrei by Carol Sorgenfreiin Asian Theatre Journal(1997.