Creating a Public: Love Suicide on the Osaka Stage, 1703-1722
Browne, Jyana S.
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This dissertation investigates how the representations of love suicide on stage at the dawn of the eighteenth century called forth an urban, commoner public in Osaka. As a result of the repeated bans on publishing print material about current events, the theater acted as one of the few avenues for representing contemporary life. I place the love suicide plays within the specific context of urban Osaka and offer new readings of these plays that challenge the dominant interpretation of these works as domestic tragedies that served as diversions from the realities of life under shogunal rule. I examine how Chikamatsu intervened in the discourse about love suicide with his landmark production of The Love Suicides at Sonezaki (Sonezaki shinjū), which transformed the act of love suicide from scandalous gossip to the purest expression of true love. Then, I analyze the plays in relation to four aspects of public life in the city: the status system (mibunseido), the prostitution industry, urban space, and popular religion. Through the analysis of the plays in relation to these larger structures, I investigate how they engendered an urban public through critiques, alternative identity formations, and the creation of new rituals that invited the community’s participation. The plays provided a new language, imagery, and sense of pride that knit Osaka commoners together in re-imagining their spaces, their values, and themselves. My study demonstrates why theatre, and the creative arts more generally, are integral to an understanding of social and political life in early modern Japan.
- Drama