Literature in No Drama

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By nature, Japanese No drama draw much of their inspiration and influence from the classics. Many are based on episodes from the most popular classics, like Atsumori, based on the Tale of Heike, or Matsukaze, which was actually based on a collage of earlier work. Even within these episodes do we find references to yet more classic works of literature, from the oldest collections of poetry to adopted religious texts. That isn’t to say that No is without its own strokes of creativity—the entire performance is a unique adaptation, and the playwrights had to be both highly educated in the classics, yet geniuses at the creative aspect of weaving song/poetry, dance, religion and literature together into a heart-wrenching spectacle. It might be easier to behold the similarities between no plays than the differences. The basic plot changes little: there is a traveler or monk who encounters a restless ghost or ghosts whose restless souls must be put to rest. The religious implications here are major, and become a central theme of No. In both Atsumori and Matsukaze, the monk chants “Namu Amida Bu,” for the Pure Land sect of Buddhism, as well as recites verses from the Lotus Sutra. The commentary mentions that “…The monk invokes Amida for the spirits of the dead, although the dead are comforted more often with passes from the Lotus Sutra.” (p.41) Atsumori’s ghost, as character “youth,” and Rensho, a monk, both quote together: “If I at last become a Buddha/then all sentient beings who call my Name/in all the worlds, in the ten directions/will find welcome in Me, for I abandon none,” which is from the sutra known as Kammuryojukyo. The chorus expands on this quote until the end of the scene, the song being the playwright’s own creati... ... middle of paper ... ... have a friend.” (p.40) Matsukaze’s text refers to a great deal more older poetry than Atsumori, perhaps simply because it is more relevant and appropriate in the context of the story: Matsukaze is a love story, and there is a lot present in the classics about love. Another kokinshu poem found in Matsukaze: “From the pillow/from the foot fo the bed/love comes pursuing,” (p.202) for example. The examples of the samples of poetry, and allusions to other works of literature, are so numerous and some so subtle that they are countless in No drama. No could not exist without the classics that it constantly draws upon. This calls for a highly educated audience to enjoy the play in its entirety. However, for the medieval age, it was new and exciting to see these classics woven together in a stage performance, so gracefully and creatively by the playwrights of old.
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