A university lecture by a Drama professor

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Listen to audio recording and answer the questions.

Listen to part of a university lecture by a Drama professor.

Professor: In our overview of world theatrical traditions, I'd like to try to give you now a general idea of the nature of the Noh theatre of Japan. Noh is a difficult art to categorize, really- it could be described, I guess, as a sort of stylized, symbolic drama which is rooted in, based on, song and dance, and which was formalized some six hundred years ago. Even the Japanese admit that only a few of them can now understand the language used in Noh dialogs- or, rather, monologues, since most Noh plays have only one main character, along with a very secondary character and a chorus. The main actor wears one of the very distinctive character masks that some of you may have seen illustrated. The pleasure of watching a Noh play is in enjoying the quiet, elegant visual and auditory beauty of the performance- a concept encapsuled in the Japanese term 'yugen', which means something like 'profound, elusive beauty'. Noh sounds very 'zen', doesn't it?

The dramas are played on a single, square platform with a single painted pine tree on the background- a holdover from when the plays were presented outdoors. The audience sits at the front and on one side of the stage, and on the other side is a covered ramp- also part of the acting area- that leads offstage. This ramp symbolizes the transition between the real world and the spiritual world. One interesting feature of most Noh stages is the large earthenware jars that are placed under them. These large jars are set at an angle with their mouths upward. Because the sounds on the stage resonate in the jars below, they increase the acoustic effects of the performance.

The history of Noh is well documented. 'Sangaku', a whole troupe of entertainment arts- acrobatics, magic, song-and-dance, juggling, et cetera- arrived from China in the eighth century. They were often performed at shrines and festivals, and became very popular with the common people.

At the same time, a more solemn Japanese native art called 'dengaku' was being performed at the great Buddhist temples. Dengaku had developed from harvest rituals and ceremonies, and was performed by incantation masters. It was supported by the nobility, and it also enjoyed great popularity.

These two independent, very different, kinds of performances were brought together in the fourteenth century- during Japan's Muromachi Period- by a father and son, Kan'ami and Ze'ami, two great theatrical geniuses. They were directors, actors, playwrights and theoreticians, and from elements of sangaku and dengaku, they created 'nogaku', a refined, elegant new theatrical art- in much the same form as we see it today. This was the great period of creativity and imaginative growth in Noh. Incredibly, some of Ze'ami's notebooks still remain in existence- it's like having Chaucer's or Shakespeare's personal notes still available to us!

One of Ze'ami's early performances caught the eye of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and the shogun gave them his enthusiastic support. This patronage continued through the next two shoguns and into the Momoyama Period and the shogunates of the great Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. These powerful men were such Noh enthusiasts that they pretty much took over its administration. They consolidated the acting troupes, standardized the operations, and established a set program of five plays to be performed in a single day.

There are now a repertory of about 200 Noh plays, and there are two basic kinds- Genzai Noh, realistic Noh- and Mugen Noh, fantasy Noh. In realistic Noh, the main character is a real person, and the acting occurs in real time. The usual theme is the depicting of the main character's inner feelings in a dramatic situation.

In Mugen Noh, on the other hand, in fantasy Noh, the main character is supernatural- a demon, a god, a ghost, or something like that. The themes come mostly from classical literature. The most popular mugen is "Lady Aoi". Her story comes from the eleventh century novel, The Tale of Genji. In it, the ghost of Lady Rokujo, the rejected lover of Prince Genji, possesses his wife, Lady Aoi. A Buddhist exorcist drives the ghost out in the shape of a horned demon, and they fight a battle for power. It is a typical Noh- a highly stylized integration of dance, song, poetry and percussion. The percussion is provided by the four-piece orchestra of flute and drums. The spoken words are elongated in a complex, structured chant. A single instant can go on for several minutes, or a lengthy stretch of time can be over in an instant. The main actor can expend so much energy in his subtle portrayal of intense emotion that his heart rate can reach 180 beats a minute, even while he is standing still.

Noh is difficult to perform and difficult to understand, but it is well worth your effort to try to appreciate this unique dramatic art if you ever get a chance.


1.What is this lecture mainly about?


Which does the professor NOT indicate as an intimation of the difficulty of Noh theatre?


Why does the professor mention the large jars?


Why did the professor probably choose "Lady Aoi" as an example?


Which is NOT true of the history of Noh?


In 2001, UNESCO included Noh in its Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Which is probably NOT a good reason for this decision?