Heike Monogatari Criticism - Essay

Kenneth Dean Butler (essay date 1966)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Textual Evolution of the Heike Monogatari” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 26, No. 5, 1966, pp. 5-51.

[In the following excerpt, Butler examines the authorship and dates of creation of the Shibu text, arguing for its acceptance as the original Heike Monogatari.]


The starting point for all investigations of the authorship of the original Heike monogatari has been the following section of the Tsurezuregusa, a miscellany written by Yoshida Kenkō (1282-1350) about the year 1330.

Section No. 226: During the time...

(The entire section is 10170 words.)

Hasegawa Tadashi (essay date 1967)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Early Stages of the Heike Monogatari,” in Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. XXII, No. 1-2, 1967, pp. 65-81.

[In the following essay, Tadashi provides an overview of the Heike Monogatari, examines the significance of the blind lute players who recited it, and traces the development of its written text.]

The culture of the Heian period was the product of a small aristocracy which flourished in the metropolis of Heian or Kyoto, capital of a highly centralized political system. It bloomed in the soil of luxury consumption maintained by the produce of lands which the aristocracy held in every province of the country. But the power structure of this...

(The entire section is 8376 words.)

Kenneth Dean Butler (essay date 1969)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Heike Monogatari and the Japanese Warrior Ethic,” in Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 29, 1969, pp. 93-108.

[In the following essay, Butler argues that the code of the Japanese warrior as presented in the Heike Monogatari is more a creation of the tellers of the tales than historic fact.]

The Heike monogatari has exerted a strong influence on many aspects of the later development of Japanese society. In the political sphere, it is well-known that the accounts of warrior battles contained in the Heike provided a model for the attitudes and standards of conduct of the warrior class until the nineteenth, and even into...

(The entire section is 6525 words.)

William E. Naff (essay date 1976)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Tale of the Heike,” in Monumenta Nipponica, Vol. 31, No. 1, Spring, 1976, pp. 87-95.

[In the following essay, Naff discusses the difficulties in translating the Heike Monogatari and specifically criticizes the efforts of Kitagawa and Tsuchida.]

The Heike Monogatari occupies a seminal position in the Japanese literary tradition. For the greater part of a millenium it has been the model in Japan for treatments of the human and religious implications of war. Among epics and military tales, the Heike Monogatari is notable for its posture toward war, the occasions of war and the roles of the contending sides in war. It was developed by...

(The entire section is 4046 words.)

Helen Craig McCullough (essay date 1988)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Tale of the Heike, translated by Helen Craig McCullough, Stanford University Press, 1988, pp. 1-11.

[In the following essay, McCullough considers the political and social changes taking place in twelfth-century Japan which inspired the creation of the Heike Monogatari.]

As the twelfth century waned, no thoughtful Japanese could have failed to recognize that the long Heian interlude of peace, economic security, and cultural florescence was nearing its end, and that a new political force was threatening the imperial court's hegemony. The signs were unmistakable.

In the countryside, there had been a steady evolution away...

(The entire section is 5162 words.)

Paul Varley (essay date 1997)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Warriors as Courtiers: The Taira in Heike Monogatari,” in Currents in Japanese Culture: Translations and Transformations, edited by Amy Vladeck Heinrich, Columbia University Press, 1997, pp. 53-70.

[In the following essay, Varley examines how later interpretations of the Heike Monogatari served to lend an aristocratic character to various warriors.]

Japan's entry into the medieval age (1185-1573) in the late twelfth century was accompanied by an epochal transition in leadership of the country, when the emperor and the ministers who served him at his court in Kyoto relinquished national rule to provincial warrior chieftains. But this...

(The entire section is 7887 words.)

Herbert Plutschow (essay date 1997)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Placatory Nature of The Tale of the Heike: Additional Documents and Thoughts,” in Currents in Japanese Culture: Translations and Transformations, edited by Amy Vladeck Heinrich, Columbia University Press, 1997, pp. 71-80.

[In the following essay, Plutschow contends that a major purpose for the Heike Monogatari was to appease angry gods and guilty consciences.]

In my book Chaos and Cosmos: Ritual in Classical Japanese Literature, I discuss a number of texts suggesting that the Heike monogatari (The Tale of the Heike) was recited in part to placate the spirits of its heroes. These texts range from legends such as “Earless...

(The entire section is 4335 words.)