Kabuki is a type of Japanese dance drama. Popular rather than courtly or lyrical drama, kabuki may well have developed from this in the 17th c. It has adopted many subjects and conventions from No. The plays are presented on a stage. It is wide and shallow and has what is called ‘a flower way’ running from the back of the hall or auditorium to the side of the stage. Along this actors make their exits and entrances. The stage is nearly always a revolving one. The scenery is elaborate and detailed. Costumes are rich and ornate. The characters are not masked but are heavily made up. Female roles are taken by men. The dramas usually have some musical accompaniment, whose precise nature will depend on the kind of play. The scenery is changed by two stage-hands: one hooded and one not. By convention, they are invisible and are a survival from the time when each actor had a ‘shadow’ behind him who held a light on the end of bamboo to illuminate the actor’s features.
The plays are based on popular legends, myths, and sometimes historical subjects, warm-hearted dramas, moral conflicts, love stories, tales of the tragedy of conspiracy, or other well-known stories. and are usually long and episodic. There are three main classes: jidaimono, or histories; sewamono, or domestic dramas; and shosagoto, or dances. A normal programme would present a variety of plays or scenes from these categories.
Some of the famous plays of Kabuki are Kanadehon Chūshingura (Treasury of Loyal Retainers), Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees), Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami (Sugawara and the Secrets of Calligraphy), etc.
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