In the history of civilization, there have been many different types of theatre. There is Greek theatre and Elizabethan theater. Some are musicals, some are comedies and some are tragedies. Some types employ realistic techniques while others are more avant-gardes. But one type stands out among the rest, and that is Kabuki theatre. This classical Japanese style of dance and drama is not just theatre. It is a beautiful form of art, which has been carefully crafted over many centuries.
Kabuki theatre has a very long and rich history. It began in the 1600s, around the same time that the American colonies were being founded. A Japanese shrine maiden, Okuni, is credited with creating Kabuki theatre. In its earliest form, Kabuki consisted of large ensemble dances performed by women. Many of these women were prostitutes off stage. Due to the fame and fan base that these prostitutes acquired because of Kabuki, the government in this time banned women from performing onstage. This was done in an effort to protect the public’s morality against what was seen as a form of lewd entertainment (Kabuki History, 1996). After women, the main characters in Kabuki programs, were banned from performing on the stage, men stepped in to continue the Kabuki productions. This change in characters brought about a very important shift in Kabuki. No longer was the focus on beauty and dance. What became important was the skill of the actors, and the drama that they portrayed. This put Kabuki on the road to becoming a dramatic art form, rather than a show of dancing with beautiful women. At the same time, there was a renaissance happening in Japan, which promoted and encouraged arts and culture. This is known as the Genroku period.
In the late 1600s, Japanese arts and culture greatly benefitted from a renaissance known as the Genroku period. This time was a great flowering of creativity for Kabuki. During this time, the traditional stylizations and conventions of Kabuki, such as play structure, character types and the art of Onnagata (men playing female roles) took form. The Kabuki playhouses became very organized during the Genroku period. Actors were arranged in a strict hierarchy that would determine which characters they would play each month. The head actor at the theatre, the tachiyaku, would receive the main role, and the star Onnagata would receive the main female role (Kabuki History, 1996). During this time period, classical Kabuki acting techniques were developed, and the greatest Kabuki playwright, Chikamatsu Monzaemon, emerged.
Most scholars agree that Chikamatsu Monzaemon is the greatest Kabuki playwright of all time. He has come to be known as the “Shakespeare of Kabuki”. Monzaemon brought a literary and philosophical touch to the simple stories of Japanese folklore. He was also one of the first professional Kabuki playwrights. Previously, the actors had written and performed the stories. Monzaemon wrote plays in the wagoto style,...