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Prostitutes, Stepmothers, and Provincial Daughters: Women and Joruri Puppet Plays in 18th Century Japan

Takai, Shiho

This dissertation investigates the development of early modern Japanese joruri puppet theater in the eighteenth century, focusing on representations of female characters in the works of three major playwrights. Joruri developed as a theatrical form combining chanting, music, and puppetry that was regularly performed for urban commoners. The plays were also commercially printed for leisure reading. The genre achieved immense popularity and exercised significant influence over early modern popular consciousness. The contemporary bakufu government licensed theaters and controlled what could appear on stage. In the shadow of this censorship, joruri developed genre conventions that reinforced the social order based on Confucian ideals, a strict class and gender hierarchy in which individuals were of less importance than the family, clan, or state. For this reason, joruri is often viewed as becoming progressively more formulaic and conservative. However, I argue that joruri playwrights straddled the fence between preserving a formula that reinforces the Confucian ethical order and its rigid gender and class hierarchy in order to avoid being banned and subverting it to speak to the audiences' anxieties about authority and the existing societal order. The instances of subversion often involved renegotiation of the genre conventions surrounding female characters whose tribulations arose from their low positions in the social order and whose tragic circumstances were highlighted by the drama. By examining the representations of innovative female characters by three major playwrights over the course of joruri's development, I show that the essence of these plays lies in these moments when joruri creates an alternative world where the repressed voice emerges, gender and class expectations are revisited, and the societal status quo is called into question.
Chapter One provides an overview of the history of joruri, particularly in relation to women, its major playwrights and theaters, and its formal conventions. Chapter Two focuses on the representations of prostitutes as heroines in love suicide plays by Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1724). I argue that Chikamatsu subverted the contemporary class and gender hierarchy by depicting prostitutes, who were at the bottom of the social hierarchy, as morally exemplary romantic heroines. Chapter Three examines the recurrent representations of stepmothers in Namiki Sosuke's (1695-1751) plays in the context of the existing conventional representations of stepmothers in joruri. I argue that Sosuke's unconventionally realistic depictions of the dark psychology and transgressive behavior of seemingly-exemplary stepmothers highlight the conflict between individual desire and social obligation and call into question the absolute priority of social obligation. Chapter Four examines the work of Chikamatsu Hanji (1725-1783) written during a time when joruri and kabuki were engaged in a particularly strong cycle of mutual influence and borrowing. I argue that Hanji's reinvention of provincial daughters as unconventionally outspoken in the female realm of love, and yet pawns in the male realm of politics, subtly criticizes societal norms that subordinate the value of the individual to the maintenance of the social order. Through examination of how each playwright established and renegotiated joruri's genre conventions in creating his innovative female characters, this dissertation sheds light on the multiple functions of joruri: as didactic theater, popular entertainment, and a site for subtle criticism where early modern conceptions of gender and class and societal norms were reexamined and reimagined.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Shirane, Haruo
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 5, 2015
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