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A: Namiki Gohei III Pf: 1840, Japan Tr: 1953 G: Kabuki play in prose and song S: A checkpoint between Kyoto and north-west Japan, c.1192 C: 10mYoritomo has seized power in Japan and has set up checkpoints across his empire in order to capture his younger brother Yoshitsune. Yoshitsune and his retainers, all disguised as mendicant priests, approach the checkpoint manned by the determined Togashi and three soldiers. The warrior-priest Benkei, who serves Yoshitsune, persuades him and his men not to attempt to fight but to let him outsmart Togashi. Benkei first begs Togashi to let the ‘priests’ through, claiming that they have to collect alms to rebuild a Buddhist temple. Togashi refuses, and so Benkei and his men pretend to prepare for death. Impressed but still suspicious, Togashi demands to see the subscription list of donors to the temple. Benkei reads from a blank scroll so convincingly and with such pious exhortations that Togashi is won over. As he lets the men pass, however, his suspicion is suddenly aroused by the figure of Yoshitsune. In order to persuade Togashi that Yoshitsune is merely a worthless servant, Benkei beats his master. This is a terrible breach of the samurai code and causes Benkei huge remorse, but the subterfuge works, and after a humorous sequence in which Benkei drinks and dances with Togashi and his soldiers, Yoshitsune and his men are free to continue.

A: Namiki Gohei III Pf: 1840, Japan Tr: 1953 G: Kabuki play in prose and song S: A checkpoint between Kyoto and north-west Japan, c.1192 C: 10m

Based on a Nø play, Ataka, this is one of the most popular kabuki plays, and is still performed today. Benkei is a favourite character in Japan: strong, courageous, resourceful, and loyally devoted to his master. This play offers to the performer opportunities for clever dialogue (Benkei's verbal sparring with Togashi), vigorous if symbolic action (Benkei beating his master), subtle emotion (Benkei's remorse after the beating), and comedy (Benkei's drunken dance).

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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