Kabuki and the Elizabethan Theatre
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.