A Beggar's Art: Scripting Modernity in Japanese Drama, 1900-1930
296pp. June 2010
A Beggar's Art: Scripting Modernity in Japanese Drama, 1900-1930
Author: Poulton, M. Cody;
In the opening decades of the twentieth century in Japan, practically every major author wrote plays that were published and performed. The plays were seen not simply as the emergence of a new literary form but as a manifestation of modernity itself, transforming the stage into a site for the exploration of new ideas and ways of being. A Beggar’s Art is the first book in English to examine the full range of early twentieth-century Japanese drama. Accompanying his study, M. Cody Poulton provides his translations of representative one-act plays. Poulton looks at the emergence of drama as a modern literary and artistic form and chronicles the creation of modern Japanese drama as a reaction to both traditional (particularly kabuki) dramaturgy and European drama. Translations and productions of the latter became the model for the so-called New Theater (shingeki), where the question of how to be both modern and Japanese at the same time was hotly contested.

Following introductory essays on the development of Japanese drama from the 1880s to the early 1930s, are translations of nine seminal one-act plays by nine dramatists, including two women, Okada Yachiyo and Hasegawa Shigure. The subject matter of these plays is that of modern drama everywhere: discord between men and women, between parents and children, and the resulting disintegration of marriages and families. Both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat make their appearances; modern pretensions are lampooned and modern predicaments lamented in equal measure. Realism (as evidenced in the plays of Kikuchi Kan and Tanaka Chikao) prevails as the mode of modernity, but other styles are presented: the symbolism of Izumi Kyoka, Suzuki Senzaburo’s brittle melodrama, Kubota Mantaro’s minimalistic lyricism, Akita Ujaku’s politically incisive expressionism, and even a proto-absurdist work by Japan’s master of prewar drama, Kishida Kunio.

With its combination of new translations and informative and theoretically engaging essays, A Beggar’s Art will prove invaluable for students and researchers in world theater and Japanese studies, particularly those with an interest in modern Japanese literature and culture.

20 illus.

"A Beggar’s Art fills in many gaps in our knowledge of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Japanese drama, and offers as well an exciting collection of nine one-acts dating from 1912–1933, each with an excellent introduction. Poulton’s historical and critical overview of modern theatre developments from the late Meiji through Taisho periods is very well researched, and his analysis is precise and cogent. The combination of scholarly discussion and translation will make this book essential reading for the growing number of Westerners interested in the roots of modern Japanese theatre." —Samuel L. Leiter, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Theatre, Brooklyn College, CUNY
Author: Poulton, M. Cody;
M. Cody Poulton is professor of Japanese literature and theater at the University of Victoria, Canada.
Read Chapter 1 (PDF).

1. Meiji Drama Theory before Ibsen

Part I
2. The Rise of Modern Drama, 1909–1924
The Boxwood Comb, by Okada Yachiyo
The Ruby, by Izumi Kyoka
Father Returns, by Kikuchi Kan
The Valley Deep, by Suzuki Senzaburo

Part II
3. After the Quake
The Skeletons’ Dance, by Akita Ujaku
Brief Night, by Kubota Mantaro
Two Men at Play with Life, by Kishida Kunio
Rain of Ice, by Hasegawa Shigure
Mama, by Tanaka Chikao