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FREEDOM IN THE SUICIDAL ACT 47 note. But an empathetic audience at least begs the question of who was imitating whom. The Tokugawa shogunate (1603-1867) seems to have been motivated by similar questions when it banned all depiction of double-suicide plays in 1723 (Shively 1982, 25). James Brandon notes in his analysis of kabuki that, “past events are merely used as starting points in the creation of theatrical fantasies” (Brandon and Leiter 2002, 59). Indeed, the plays analyzed here are said to be inspired by actual events (Shively 1982, 33-44; Brandon and Leiter 1982, 174). In Chushingura, audiences learned from the play that to sacrifice one’s life can be beautiful – enacting onstage what Brandon has referred to as the mixture of the cruel and beautiful that is uniquely kabuki. This aesthetic appreciation and empathetic response on the part of the audience, translated - at least in part into a tacit social acceptance of suicide. In the case of Chushingura, the events onstage have been linked directly to what has been called the Ako Vendetta of 1701-1703. The narrative of the play closely follows the structure of a typical revenge story. Lord Hangan, a samurai, is provoked into an altercation with his rival of higher rank, Moronao, after Moronao failed to seduce Kaoyo, Hangan’s wife. As fighting within the palace walls is prohibited, Moronao now has the grounds to charge Hangan with a capital offense, a situation Moronao quickly exploits. The appropriate means of punishment for a samurai is seppuku. Thus, Hangan is to take his own life in the presence of Moronao’s underlings as a result of his behavior. Absent from this ritual until the last moment is Hangan’s loyal retainer, Yuranosuke. Yuranosuke appears only in time to see his master die and infer from Hangan’s last gasps that Yuranosuke should avenge his death. Ultimately Yuranosuke achieves this end, plunging the same dagger his master used for seppuku into the breast of Moronao. Moronao is subsequently decapitated and the retainers revel in the “mingled happiness and grief” that the cycle of death and revenge has induced (Brandon et al. 1982, 221). Chushingura upholds the theme that duty (giri) is to come before human life and feeling (ninjo). This coupling of the tropes of suicide and duty-bound vengeance was common within kabuki plays, and is also explored in Mirror Mountain. The popularity of the play is attributed to its unabashed praise of the samurai ideal. The code of behavior (bushido) that had lost its luster by 1748 was restored to prominence through the actions of the characters in Chushingura, who reinforced the interconnection between drama and society. In his essay about the variations of the Chushingura story, Donald Keene stresses the important effects of the play in imperial Japanese society. “For [the audience] Kanadehon Chushingura was the grand summation of ideals which even the most unmartial Japanese of the Tokugawa period felt were his own. The annual performances of the play strengthened this conviction: faith

Sagar XVII — 2007  
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