Author's School

Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

Comparative Literature


English (en)

Date of Award

January 2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Chair and Committee

Robert Hegel


This study explores the various dramaturgical strategies at work within the twentieth and twenty-first-century theatrical adaptation of the Japanese Nō drama. At its core are questions regarding the methodology utilized in the updating of an innately supernatural and spiritual aesthetic into the increasingly secularized world of the present, and how those supernatural elements are often transformed into metaphorical constructs. Ultimately, I examine how the transformative aesthetic that has given the Nō its literary power over the past 700 years is the very aspect that permits it to facilitate, resist, and assimilate the strategies of dramatic adaptation. My primary categories for adaptation include the direct and indirect, which refer to the existence: or not) of a direct textual analogue within a specific style of classical literature. I break this down further into the sub-categories of correlative, extrapolative, interpolative, and stylistic adaptation, each dependent upon the degree to which the modern author adheres to the variants and invariants of an extant text or literary tradition. Throughout the study, I return periodically to the work of Gèrard Genette and Linda Hutcheon, basing my primary criteria for successful dramaturgical adaptation on their theories of metatextuality, palimpsests, and textual oscillation. Additionally, because of the specific supernatural context of the Nō, I refer substantively to Victor Turner's anthropological theories of liminality to explore the transformative agenda of the Nō, both classical and modern/contemporary. In order to contextualize my specific criteria and methodology for the study of textual transformation and oscillation between classical Nō and its modern analogues during the past century, I first explore the particular strategies of adaptation as they apply to twentieth- and twenty-first-century theatrical versions of classical Greek myth. Perhaps the greatest innovator of the Nō form in the twentieth century, and the individual who may be credited with popularizing its awareness on an international level, is Yukio Mishima, whose publication of nine "modern Nō plays" in the 1950s and 1960s revolutionized the way the world looked at the classical genre. His adaptations, both extrapolative and interpolative in nature, transform textual antecedents from the popular Nō canon into statements of the increasing tension between an idealized ancient Japanese past and the Westernized world of the post-war present. He transforms the Nō into political metaphors written in a Western style, their supernatural elements altered to represent the ghosts of a disappearing culture, thrusting themselves into an alien, amnesiac world of neon and concrete to warn of impending spiritual death. My primary text for the exploration of Mishima's tactics and agenda in the creation of the "modern Nō" is his 1956 adaptation of Aoi no ue, in which the iconic character of Prince Genji is converted into a Westernized businessman. This example clearly depicts how Mishima engages in strategies of inversion and subversion to achieve his aesthetic and political goals, yet retains recognizable conventions of the Nō's classical framework. I also examine Mishima's theatrical legacy within the context of contemporary Japanese playwrights like Takeshi Kawamura, who have continued the trajectory of Mishima's adaptations of Nō into the present. My examination of contemporary American Nō plays contextualizes the strategy of indirect dramatic adaptation within the framework of stylistic homage, rather than any other forms that utilize the Nō structure and conventions for parodic or satirical purposes. My primary examples, Kenneth Yasuda's Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Nō Play and Deborah Brevoort's Blue Moon Over Memphis, not only imitate the style and literary architecture of the classical Nō: while updating these conventions for contemporary audiences), but they honor the religio-aesthetic tone of the traditional Nō canon as well. This is accomplished by re-imagining their pop culture shite figures as modern-day bodhisattvas, spiritually transcendent beings who remain in the physical world in order to pass on their enlightenment to others, in these examples represented by the waki roles. In conclusion, I propose the continued evolution of the Nō into the twenty-first century and beyond by considering the various means by which the form both resists and encourages transformation of content and context, as well as the assertion that, as a culture progresses forward in time, so do its ghosts adapt with the march of time.


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