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Developing Zeami: The Noh Actor's Attunement in Practice
496pp. July 2005
Developing Zeami: The Noh Actor's Attunement in Practice
Author: Quinn, Shelley Fenno;
The great noh actor, theorist, and playwright Zeami Motokiyo (ca. 1363-1443) is one of the major figures of world drama. His critical treatises have attracted international attention ever since their publication in the early 1900s. His corpus of work and ideas continues to offer a wealth of insights on issues ranging from the nature of dramatic illusion and audience interest to tactics for composing successful plays to issues of somaticity and bodily training. Shelley Fenno Quinn’s impressive interpretive examination of Zeami’s treatises addresses all of these areas as it outlines the development of the playwright’s ideas on how best to cultivate attunement between performer and audience.

Quinn begins by tracing Zeami’s transformation of the largely mimetic stage art of his father’s troupe into a theater of poiesis in which the playwright and actors aim for performances wherein dance and chant are re-keyed to the evocative power of literary memory. Synthesizing this remembered language of stories, poems, phrases, and their prosodies and associated auras with the flow of dance and chant led to the creation of a dramatic prototype that engaged and depended on the audience as never before.

Later chapters examine a performance configuration created by Zeami (the nikyoku santai) as articulated in his mature theories on the training of the performer. Drawing on possible reference points from Buddhist and Daoist thought, the author argues that Zeami came to treat the nikyoku santai as a set of guidelines for bracketing the subjectivity of the novice actor, thereby allowing the actor to reach a certain skill level or threshold from which his freedom as an artist might begin.


"This is an impressive work of scholarship that draws upon a vast array of historical, biographical, literary, and critical materials relating to . As a specialist in medieval Japanese language and literature, Quinn is able to make important material previously available only to Japanese readers accessible to an English-language audience. . . . [T]his book that deeply examines some of the most profound aspects of the acting process could be inspiring for advanced students and teachers of acting." —Asian Theatre Journal (24:1, Spring 2007)

"Quinn explicates a wide range of Zeami’s aesthetic vocabulary, carefully defining how he uses it in his different treatises. These features make her book an essential guide to reading Zeami’s writings and for contemplating their impact on the development of noh." —Monumenta Nipponica 60 (2005)

Author: Quinn, Shelley Fenno;
Shelley Fenno Quinn is associate professor of Japanese in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures at The Ohio State University.
Read the introduction (PDF).

Part I: Zeami’s Shift in Representational Styles

1. The Social Context of Zeami’s Secret Treatises

2. Developing Zeami’s Representational Style

3. Fierce Moons, Gentle Demons: From Ends to Means

Part II: Zeami’s Literary Turn

4. Composing the Text

5. Zeami’s Theory in Practice: An Analysis of the Waki Play Takasago

Part III: The Actor’s Attunement and Nikyoku Santai

6. Actor and Audience

7. Mind and Technique: The Two Modes in Training


Appendix 1: An Annotated Translation of Sandò
Appendix 2: An Annotated Translation of Takasago

Character Glossary
Selected Bibliography