chapter  18
12 Pages

Kabuki and the Elizabethan Theatre

WithLeonard C. Pronko 329

There are probably few directors who would want to attempt an archaeologi­ cal reconstruction in their productions of Elizabethan plays. But we are all interested in finding some style that would give to our performances a spirit as exciting as that the Elizabethans must have found in their theatre. A great deal has been written on the controversial subject of acting styles in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, but ultimately scholars must ad­ mit that there is little that can be proved about that style aside from sugges­ tions that it was indeed stylized or formal (but how?) rather than realistic (in what sense?). Twentieth-century interpretations of these terms, and of others used by writers referring to productions of William Shakespeare, Christo­ pher Marlowe, John Ford, and so on will necessarily be colored by our own understanding--and by half a century of naturalistic bias. [This essay was written in 1967. Ed.] It seems to me that a fruitful approach to the problem might be taken through a living theatrical tradition that arose from historical conditions somewhat similar to those ofTudor England, and--if we can trust reports as they come down to us-that exhibits astonishing similarities to much of what we are told actually took place on the English stage three or four hundred years ago. I am referring, of course, to that form of popular theatre known as kabuki, a form that, like Elizabethan drama, mingles hair­ raising realism with extreme formalism, low farce with high seriousness.