Zeami (Literary Criticism (1400-1800)) - Essay


(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Zeami 1363-1443

(Full name Kanze Motokiyo Zeami) Japanese essayist and playwright.

Zeami is considered the foremost nō dramatist and theorist, whose plays and treatises are largely responsible for transforming nō from a rustic form of entertainment into a high art. He is credited with having written 240 plays, some 100 of which still survive and are regularly performed. In addition, his treatises are regarded as a significant contribution not only to the dramatic arts but to Japanese aesthetics as a whole.

Biographical Information

Zeami was born in Nagaoka, Yamashiro Province, the son of Kanze Kiyotsugu (known as Kan'ami), an eminent practitioner of sarugaku, as nō was then called. As a child Zeami performed in the Kanze family troupe, which his father headed. There he attracted the notice of the shōgun Ashikaga Yokumitsu and the renowned poet Nijō Yoshimoto. It is believed that through the influence of these two prominent figures Zeami received an excellent education, for his treatises demonstrate a wider knowledge of literature and philosophy than was typical of one who pursued the lowly profession of actor. Kan'ami died when his son was only twenty-two, leaving him responsible for the troupe. In 1400 Zeami began writing his first treatise, Fūshikaden (1400-c. 1406; Teachings on Style and the Flower), to preserve and pass on his father's teachings. As they had under his father, Zeami and his troupe received the patronage of Yokumitsu until the shōgun's death in 1408. Yokumitsu's successor, Yoshimochi, seems to have been indifferent to Zeami, but when he died in 1428 and his younger brother, Yoshinori, assumed power, Zeami's fortunes declined sharply. In 1432, when Zeami was seventy, his elder son, Motomasa—who had assumed leadership of the troupe a decade earlier—was killed, possibly murdered. Yoshinori made Zeami's estranged cousin, On'ami, head of the family troupe. Two years later Zeami was exiled to the island of Sado for reasons that remain unclear, but possibly because of his opposition to On'ami. After the death of Yoshinori in 1441, Zeami was pardoned, and he returned to the mainland. He died two years later.

Major Works

Of the 100 surviving plays attributed to Zeami, many, such as Aoi no Ue (before 1430; The Lady Aoi), Nishikigi (before 1430; The Brocade Tree), and Takasago (before 1423) remain essential works in the nō repertory. Establishing the canon and dating of Zeami's plays has been the subject of much scholarly investigation and debate. In Zeami's period playwrights' names were not typically attached to their works, and existing records of performances often do not provide titles; moreover, revision of earlier works and collaboration were common practices. It is only through references to his plays in Zeami's own treatises—which generally can be reliably dated—that scholars can extrapolate end dates for composition for a number of plays. It is through his twenty-some treatises that Zeami's influence has perhaps been most strongly felt. These works, intended as private texts for the training of actors in the family troupe, remained secret until the early twentieth century, when they were uncovered and published. The earliest treatise, Fūshikaden (1400-c. 1406), written to preserve Zeami's father's instruction, discusses the proper training of an actor, the relationship of the actor and the audience, and the structuring of plays. It also introduces the concept of hana, the flower, a metaphor that Zeami employs throughout his writings. Throughout his numerous other treatises, Zeami provides advice to actors on proper training techniques, lessons on how to compose music, methods of recitation, and hints for playing women characters effectively.

Critical Reception

Historians and scholars of nō theater concur that Zeami, continuing the work of his father, developed nō from a low form of popular entertainment into a brilliant art form that seamlessly combines dance, song, mime, and poetry. As demonstrated in his plays and expressed in his treatises, Zeami infused nō with religious significance derived from Zen Buddhism. Scholars note that the concept of yūgen—a complex idea that indicates beauty, grace and depth—was particularly important to Zeami. For him, yūgen was inseparable from nō and was the wellspring of its spirituality. It is this fusion of art and spirituality, critics agree, that lies at the heart of Zeami's greatness.

Principal Works

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

*Fūshikaden. 7 vols. [also known as Kadensho; Teachings on Style and the Flower] (treatises) 1400-c. 1406

Kashu [The Practice of the Flower] (treatise) 1418

Sekidera Komachi [Komachi at Sekidera] (play) before 1419

Tōru (play) before 1419

Shikadō [The True Path to the Flower] (treatise) 1420

Aridōshi (play) before 1423

Atsumori (play) before 1423

Funabashi [The Floating Bridge] (play) before 1423

Higaki [The Woman within the Cyprus Fence] (play) before 1423

Hyakuman (play) before 1423

Kayoi Komachi [Komachi and the Hundred Nights] (play) before 1423

Kiyotsune (play) before 1423

Koi no omoni [The Burden of Love] (play) before 1423

Kōya monogurui [The Madman at Kōya] (play) before 1423

Matsukaze [Pining Wind] (play) before 1423

Michimori (play) before 1423

Oimatsu [The Aged Crone] (play) before 1423

Sanemori (play) before 1423

Sotoba Komachi [Komachi on the Stupa] (play) before 1423


(The entire section is 492 words.)

Makoto Ueda (essay date 1965)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Ueda, Makoto. “Zeami Motokiyo: Imitation, Yugen, and the Sublime.” In Zeami, Basho, Yeats, Pound: A Study in Japanese and English Poetics, pp. 11-34. London: Mouton & Co., 1965.

[In the essay below, Ueda surveys Zeami's theories on effective Nō theater.]

A certain Japanese poet, commenting on the difference between the artisan and the artist, once said that the latter always strives to explore and expand the meaning of his art while the former simply tries to fulfil the rules handed down by the tradition. Zeami Motokiyo1 was known to his contemporaries largely as a master artisan, yet we now know him as a rare artist. Born as the eldest son of a great performer, he followed his father's footsteps and came to achieve great fame for his acting, chanting and dancing; his contemporary audience enjoyed his art, quite possibly without knowing what lay behind it. Yet, although we now cannot in any way restore Zeami's performance, we do have a way to learn some of the ideas he conceived on the art of the nō. These are expressed in a body of his miscellaneous essays, written at various times of his career, aiming, primarily, to make practical advice on the training of actors, principles of acting, play-writing, dancing and music, and numerous other matters relating to the performance of the nō. Despite the variety of topics with which the essays deal, one cannot fail to recognize Zeami's never-failing passion for the perfection of his art: “a man's life has an end”, he says, “but there is no end in the pursuit of the ”.2 In fact his essays were written in order to set a high goal toward which the best of performers in the succeeding years were expected to strive. On the other hand Zeami was not an idealistic theorizer who merely played with abstract ideas. The essays reveal him to be an efficient, realistic, and at times even shrewd person: his scheme of actor-training is devised with the details which remind us of a curriculum at some modern professional school; he was so practical even as to warn that an actor should take a look before his performance to make sure that no nail was sticking out on the stage.

The first basic principle in Zeami's concept of art is that of imitation. “Objects to be imitated are too many to be enumerated here”, he says. “Yet they have to be thoroughly studied since imitation is a foremost principle in our art.” Then he adds: “The basic rule is to imitate things as they are, whatever they may be.”3 A performer should carefully observe the speech and deportment of princes, ministers of state, courtiers and warriors; he should ask them, when he meets them after his performance, whether his acting has been an acceptable imitation of what they actually say and do. When he is cast in the role of a high court lady he can rarely see, he should inquire of the traditional manner in which such a lady speaks and behaves, or of the customary ways in which she wears her clothes. The imitation of an ordinary woman is easier, as one can observe a model anywhere and at any time. Some actors, too intent on producing the effect of elegant beauty which they thought was the aim of the nō, often neglected the principle of imitation. Zeami warns sharply against such negligence. It was not that he thought lightly of artistic effect; on the contrary, he considered the principle of imitation as fundamental in creating an appropriate aesthetic sentiment. In a passage where he speaks of forcefulness and elegance as two important qualities of the nō, he says:

In any act of imitation, if there is a false element, the act will become coarse or weak … For instance, it will be a false imitation to create the forceful out of the weak; the act then will become coarse. To act forcefully for the things forceful—this is forceful, and not coarse. If an actor departs from the principle of imitation in the hope of producing elegance out of something forceful, his act will not look elegant but weak. Therefore, if an actor gives himself up to this principle and becomes at one with the object of his imitation, his performance will look neither coarse nor weak. Also, when a forceful thing is imitated more forcibly than it should be, the performance will appear especially coarse. If one tries to be more elegant than what is appropriate to the occasion, one's performance will look especially weak … Such unfortunate cases occur when the actor assumes that there is such a thing as elegance or forcefulness apart from the things they imitate. These two exist in the forms of things themselves. Court ladies high and low, men and women beautiful and refined, various kinds of flowers—these are the things whose forms are elegant in themselves. Warriors, rustics, devils, deities, pine trees—these may be thought of as forceful things. When accurately imitated, the imitation of an elegant thing will become elegant, and that of a forceful thing forceful … Forcefulness or elegance does not exist by itself. It springs from an accurate imitation of an object. Weakness or coarseness arises when the actor fails to observe the principle of imitation.4

Art imitates nature in order to reproduce what nature has. Any act of imitation which distorts nature for the sake of an artistic effect will result in either coarseness or weakness; it is artifice, and not art. An aesthetic effect like forcefulness or elegance is inherent in the natural objects themselves. The actor, therefore, should try to bring himself into the heart of the natural objects rather than to bring them into the subjective sphere of his mind. He should minimize the activities of his ego; a personal element should not enter the process through which an object in nature is transformed into its equivalent in art.

Zeami further develops his idea of non-personal quality in artistic imitation and comes to reject the actor's conscious will toward imitation. “In the art of imitation there is a stage called ‘non-imitation’”, he says. “If one proceeds to the ultimate of imitation and entirely enters the thing he is imitating, he will possess no will for imitation.”5 In the highest stage of imitation the actor becomes unconscious of his art; the imitator is united with the imitated. And he can do this only when he completely projects himself into the essence of the object which he imitates; the man and the object become at one in the essence they share with each other. Zeami calls this essence the “true intent”. A performer, in a more elementary aspect of imitation, will try to represent the things of life as they are. But, over and above this, he should endeavor to express the “true intent” of the thing; for the sake of the “true intent” he might not make an exact copy of the outward appearance. In point of fact it is impossible to imitate realistically a demon from hell, the ghost of a butterfly or the spirit of a pine tree; the object of imitation is often supernatural in the drama. Still, such a thing could be convincingly represented if the artist successfully creates the feeling of its “true intent”. “Nobody has seen a real demon from hell”, says Zeami. “It is more important, therefore, to act the role in such a manner as to deeply move the audience, rather than to attempt to imitate the demon.”6

What Zeami exactly means by the “true intent” is difficult to define, but we may have a fair idea of it as we read his comment on the art of acting a frenzied man's role. He writes:

It is extremely difficult to play the roles of those who are mentally deranged because of various obsessions, such as a person would experience at the parting with his parent, at the loss of his child, or at the death of his wife. Even a fairly good actor does not distinguish between different obsessions but portrays frenzied men all in a similar manner; the audience, therefore, is not impressed. A man is frenzied because of an obsession; therefore, if the actor makes the obsession the true intent of his portraiture, and the frenzy an effective expression of it, then his acting will certainly impress the audience and create a breathtaking climax. If there is an actor who moves the audience to tears by such means, he is a performer of rare greatness.7

The “true intent” of a character, then, is the inmost nature that constitutes the core of his person. In a frenzied man mental derangement is merely the outward expression of an inner cause; the deepest truth in this person lies in his obsession, or what has caused the obsession, rather than in his madness. One who wants to portray such a man will try to represent that specific obsession, instead of merely copying the features of any madman; he will imitate the characteristics of a frenzied man in such a way that the primary cause of the man's madness may manifest itself. Realistic details do not much matter; or rather, it would be better if they are eliminated wherever necessary for the sake of the “true intent”. A good actor, Zeami implies, should pierce through the surface of everyday reality and reach for the hidden truth of things. Only then the effectiveness, or beauty, of a performance will be attained.8 Zeami's idea of beauty is thus closely related to his interpretation of life. Yūgen, his ideal beauty, is not only an aesthetic principle but a mode of perception. The term, originally used in Taoism and Buddhism, literally means something mysterious and profound which lies beyond the reach of ordinary human senses. Since it was imported from China and employed in literary criticism in Japan, yūgen had been greatly expanded in meaning and came to imply a kind of beauty which is elegant, remote and subtle. Yet its original meaning, with its mystical overtone, always stuck to the term. “Yūgen is ultimately a sentiment inexpressible in word, a landscape unseen in form”, says a thirteenth-century scholar. “As its sentiment has profound truth, and its word utmost beauty, the effect naturally springs from it.”9 Zeami, inheriting the tradition, advocates yūgen as the final goal for the art of the nō. After explaining the manifestations of yūgen in various character types, he goes on:

An actor should master all these character types so that he can successfully cast himself into any of them at will. But, whatever kind of imitation he performs, he should never depart from the principle of yūgen. This will be like seeing a noble princess, a court lady, a man, a woman, a monk, a peasant, a humble man, a beggar, an outcast, all standing in a line each with a spray of blossoms. Although they differ in social status and outward appearance, they are equally beautiful blossoms insofar as we feel the effect of their beauty. The beautiful blossoms are the beauty of human form. The beauty of form is built by the creative spirit.10

Yūgen is not a superficial surface beauty; it lies deep in the heart of things. Therefore, even an imitation of something which is not externally beautiful may be made beautiful if the inner beauty finds its way out. A withered old man, ugly in appearance, can be made to have certain beauty: Zeami describes the beauty as “blossoms blooming on a dead tree”. A dreadful demon of hell can be made beautiful too: Zeami describes it as “blossoms blooming on a crag”. What creates real beauty is the “creative spirit”. Zeami uses the term in many different ways, but basically it seems to imply a spirit in pursuit of the highest type of beauty. To learn the “spirit” of composition, one should carefully study classical poetry; to learn the “spirit” of mimicry, one would better start with the imitation of elegant people. An actor should firmly get hold of what makes a person or thing beautiful, and attempt to embody this essence of beauty in his performance. Zeami aptly explains this process of artistic transformation with an anatomical metaphor—the bone, the flesh and the skin.11 The bone is the spirit that tries to discover and express ideal beauty; it is “pre-art”, as it were, and this sometimes enables a genius to attain an amazing success even at a very early stage of his training. The flesh is that part of art which can be learned by training. The skin corresponds to artistic effect; it is the visible part of art. A human body consists of the bone, the flesh and the skin, although we see the skin only. Similarly, the beauty of the consists of personal inspiration, traditional framework and external action, although the audience sees only the last of the three. Zeami emphasizes the harmony of these three elements as essential to a successful performance.

Yūgen, then, is inner beauty of things outwardly expressed by means of art. It is the manifestation of the “true intent” which lies in the depth of things. In this sense it is identical with truth—the truth caught by the artist's “creative spirit”. The mysterious feeling which yūgen connotes comes from its pursuit of hidden truth. Outward reality is illusory; there is higher reality lying somewhere beyond the reach of our ordinary senses. The artist, seeking for ideal beauty, instantaneously penetrates the surface reality and gets a momentary hold of hidden truth. Such a romantic concept of reality would lead anyone to prefer the elegant past to the degenerate present, the refined few to the uneducated mass. Whether this was the primary motive or not, Zeami particularly yearns for the lost world of the Heian period wherein artistic taste was most highly cultivated. Characters in The Tale of Genji such as Lady Aoi, Lady Yūgao and Lady Ukifune, are the most precious heroines of the nō. In the golden years of the Heian period men and women in the court, with their most refined taste in art, lived always in search of ideal beauty; delicate, subtle, elegant beauty was their very life, the force that kept their lives going. A actor, therefore, may imitate the appearance and manners of a court lady in minute detail, while he should not do so when he acts a woodcutter's role. A court lady, knowing what refined beauty is, has made herself look so; a woodcutter, who does not know it, needs the actor's art to be made beautiful. The imitation of a court lady, as Zeami teaches, is the basis of all the other imitations. When this kind of beauty is elevated to its highest level, it will give the impression of “a white bird with a flower in its beak”.12 The famous metaphor suggests Zeami's romantic aspiration after the purest type of beauty, after a creation of unearthly beauty by means of art.

Yet it is in the very essence of yūgen that this elegant beauty is combined with a feeling of sadness. If yūgen is a mode of perception into the hidden nature of things, it cannot but bring out a pessimistic notion of life. For the law of the universe prescribes that even the most beautiful lady must suffer the hardship of life, that even the loveliest blossom must fade away. Immediately after stressing the importance of elegant beauty in performance, Zeami says: “But there are even more precious materials for producing the visual effect of yūgen than the elegant appearance of court ladies I have just referred to; these rare examples are seen in such cases as Lady Aoi haunted by Lady Rokujō's spirit, Lady Yūgao carried away by a ghost, or Lady Ukifune possessed by a supernatural being.”13Yūgen, then, lies not simply in the graceful beauty of a court lady but in such a lady going through an intense suffering—a suffering caused by a power beyond her control, by the law of causation, by the supernatural, by the unknown force of the universe. Such a suffering naturally leads to sad resignation. The court lady, lacking the masculine courage to heroically fight with her fate, surrenders to religion when she comes to realize that suffering is the condition of being alive in this world. Yūgen, in the final analysis, may be conceived as a combined quality of elegant beauty and sad resignation—the elegant beauty which is a result of man's quest for his ideal through art and artifice, and the sad resignation which comes from man's recognition of his insignificance before the great cosmic power that rules over this world. Thus Zeami defines yūgen as “elegance, calm, profundity, mixed with the feeling of mutability”.14

Of these two elements of yūgen Zeami stressed the first much more than the second in the earlier part of his career; in those years yūgen was almost equivalent to graceful beauty. Yet as he grew old the emphasis was reversed: he came to admire cold, subdued beauty more and more. Already in one of his early essays there is a suggestion of this when he confesses his preference of a withering flower to a fully blooming one. Later he becomes more explicit: he says that a superb actor, when he acts an important scene, will “perform chanting, dancing and mimicry in such a manner that the audience may, without knowing it, be deeply impressed by the subdued simplicity of the atmosphere”.15 Elsewhere Zeami calls this kind of acting a “chilled performance” and ranks it the highest of all performances.

In this respect it is interesting to observe how Zeami categorizes plays in some of his later essays. He classifies the into five types by the over-all effect which each play exerts upon the audience. He seldom tries to define the effect in analytical terms; instead, he cites a poem and a plant which are supposed to produce a similar emotional impact; he also illustrates his point by quoting passages from actual plays. These five types are called “celebration”, “yūgen”, “longing”, “grief”, and “the sublime”.

The drama of “celebration” is a little different from other types in that a happy mood pervades it. A play which belongs to this category celebrates the order of the universe ruled by heaven. “Its mood”, writes Zeami, “is peaceful and devoid of any malignant thought”.16 The play sings out the happy voice of the people who live in a well-governed nation. Its effect may be compared to that of a pine tree with its evergreen needles, or to a classical Japanese poem:

May our august Emperor
Live for thousands of years
Like a venerable pine tree,
So that we may all live
Peacefully under his shade!(17)

This type of drama presumes an optimistic view of life. There is order in the universe ruled by heaven; there is order in the nation ruled by the Emperor; man, in this world, wants to live as long as he can. The audience will feel joy and happiness as he sees this type of play acted.

The second type of drama is based on the first type; only there is an added element—graceful beauty. If the drama of “celebration” is a piece of undyed fabrics, that of “yūgen” is a piece of textile deeply dyed by sentiments, as if “white threads were dyed in five colors”.18 Its beauty is what we would feel as we “look over the morning scene of spring flowers and the evening scene of the autumn moon”. Its impact is like that of cherry-blossoms:

Snowy petals scatter
At the cherry-blossom hunting
On the field of Katano:
Shall I ever see again
Such a beautiful spring dawn?(19)

The image of cherry-blossoms falling like snow neatly combines the purity of beautiful whiteness and the sense of life's mutability, adequately introducing the sentiment of the last two lines. Although here yūgen has dwindled into a quality which characterizes one of the five types of drama, Zeami never forgets to emphasize its importance: he adds in a parenthesis that “yūgen is an element common to all five types”. He also states that it will not be necessary to quote many examples “because all the plays and folk dances since the Oei years [1394-1427] are of yūgen type”.20

The third type, called “longing”, is defined as the “further deepening of yūgen”.21 If the effect of yūgen is something like the cherry-blossoms falling in spring, that of “longing” is like maple leaves turning in autumn. The sentiment is more specific and personal than yūgen; it is particularly associated with love between men and women. Love is beautiful, but does not last long in this transient life; it is always followed by sorrow. The feeling embodied in this type of can be illustrated by this poem:

In the autumn wood
Where the lower leaves of maples
All start to fall,
A deer, wet in the...

(The entire section is 8629 words.)

Makoto Ueda (essay date 1967)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Ueda, Makoto. “Zeami and the Art of the Nō Drama: Imitation, Yugen, and Sublimity.” In Japanese Aesthetics and Culture: A Reader, edited by Nancy G. Hume, pp. 177-91. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1967, Ueda describes Zeami's concepts of perfect Nō drama, including the role of the actor and the importance of music and religion.]

The aesthetics of Japanese theater reached a peak in its history with the writings of Zeami Motokiyo (1363-1443), a great actor, writer, and theorizer of the Nō drama. For one thing, the Nō was a highly refined, sophisticated art form, accepting no...

(The entire section is 6581 words.)

Karen Brazell (essay date 1974)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Brazell, Karen. “Zeami and Women in Love.” Literature East & West XVIII, no. 1 (March 1974): 8-18.

[In the essay which follows, Brazell summarizes Zeami's portrayal of women in his plays, arguing that because his culture lacked a single model for women, he was freer to have his female characters depict a wide range of emotions.]

One distinctive trait of Japanese Nō drama is its avoidance of highly individualized characterizations in favor of expressing powerful emotion. Hence the Nō theater relies on certain character types. In developing these types, it of course used images and ideals prevalent in the culture and in turn elaborated and influenced...

(The entire section is 4803 words.)

Jacqueline Mueller (essay date 1981)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Mueller, Jacqueline. “The Two Shizukas: Zeami's Futari Shizuka.Monumenta Nipponica: Studies in Japanese Culture XXXVI, no. 3 (autumn 1981): 285-98.

[In the following essay, which introduced her translation of The Two Shizukas, Mueller examines Zeami's treatment of the tragic character Shizuka in light of other depictions of this traditional figure. In this reprinting, ideographic characters have been silently deleted.]

Futari Shizuka (The Two Shizukas), by Kanze Motokiyo Zeami, 1363-1443, is a play of the third, or woman, category. Like many other works of the noh repertory, it is based on events in the war between the Minamoto...

(The entire section is 1928 words.)

Shigenori Nagatomo (essay date 1981)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Nagatomo, Shigenori. “Zeami's Conception of Freedom.” Philosophy East and West XXXI, no. 4 (October 1981): 401-16.

[In the essay below, Nagatomo uncovers the concept of freedom implicit in Zeami's theories of disciplined dramatic training, which results in a “controlled spontaneity” of mind and action. In this reprinting, ideographic characters have been silently deleted.]

Freedom, as it has been propounded in the rich variety of theories to be found in Western philosophy, has seldom been conceived as an achieved quality of a person. In this article I would like to demonstrate that “freedom” can best be understood in this manner and that one...

(The entire section is 7392 words.)

Erika De Poorter (essay date 1986)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: De Poorter, Erika. “The Theoretical Writings of Zeami.” In Zeami's Talks on Sarugaku: An Annotated Translation of the Sarugaku Dangi, pp. 45-56. Amsterdam: J. C. Geiben, Publisher, 1986.

[In the excerpt below, De Poorter surveys Zeami's theoretical writings, underscoring their “hidden” or “secret” quality as texts intended for a narrow, private audience.]


Zeami began the Fūshi kaden, the first of a score of theoretical writings about Nō, in about 1400, after having already gained many years of experience as an actor, writer and director. As far as we know this was the first treatise on the art of...

(The entire section is 6846 words.)

Tatsuro Ishii (essay date 1987)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Ishii, Tatsuro. “Zeami's Mature Thoughts on Acting.” Theatre Research International 12, no. 2 (summer 1987): 110-23.

[In the following essay, Ishii traces the evolution of Zeami's theories on the ideal Nō performance, noting that he believed performance should try to achieve “accord with the perfect order of nature by means of lifelong training and development.”]

It is difficult to deal with all the ideas and concepts of a man whose writings span a period of some forty years and which are contained within some twenty-one essays. But the time spent on even a cursory exploration into some of the most important ideas presented in Zeami's later essays is...

(The entire section is 5950 words.)

Mae J. Smethurst (essay date 1989)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Smethurst, Mae J. “The Style of Nō.” In The Artistry of Aeschylus and Zeami: A Comparative Study of Greek Tragedy and Nō, pp. 148-204. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989.

[In the following excerpt, Smethurst chronicles the extensive literary and stylistic similarities between Zeami's play Sanemori and Aeschylus's Persians.]

From the discussion of structure in the two preceding chapters, it should be apparent that, although the finales of both Aeschylus's Persians and Zeami's Sanemori feature vigorous movements and gestures, excited rhythms and music, the effective use of “literary” sources, religious formulas,...

(The entire section is 8838 words.)

Arthur H. Thornhill III (essay date 1990)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Thornhill III, Arthur H. “The Goddess Emerges: Shinto Paradigms in the Aesthetics of Zeami and Zenchiku.” Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese 24, no. 1 (April 1990): 49-59.

[In the essay below, Thornhill exposes elements of Shinto doctrines in the treatment of the sun goddess myth in works by Zeami and his successor Komparu Zenchiku.]

In recent years, scholars of Japanese literature have made ambitious attempts to redefine the medieval period. Sensing the conventional periodization, which classifies the Kamakura and Muromachi eras as medieval, to be ultimately based on events of political rather than cultural history, they propose new...

(The entire section is 4057 words.)

Further Reading

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))


Ishii, Tatsuro. “Zeami on Performance.” Theatre Research International n.s. 8, no. 3 (autumn 1983): 190-206.

Analyzes Zeami's theories on the principles of effective nō performance.

Keene, Donald, and Royall Tyler, eds. Twenty Plays of the Nō Theatre. New York: Columbia University Press, 1970, 336 p.

Includes Keene's essay “The Conventions of the Nō Drama,” which discusses the difficulties in establishing a canon of Zeami's works, as well as six of Zeami's plays with brief introductions.

LaFleur, William R. “Zeami's Buddhism: Cosmology and Dialectic in N Nō Drama.” In...

(The entire section is 241 words.)