Bakumatsu Kabuki Heroes: Thieves, Cutpurses and Extortionists – Alan Cummings

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Like theatres elsewhere in the world, kabuki was viewed askance by the authorities during the Tokugawa period. Bakufu officials repeatedly issued legislation that was designed to hem in and control the theatre’s impact on popular morality and customs. Kabuki reacted in different ways to this web of control. On the one hand, the creation of a sense of visual extravagance and abundance obliquely questioned the logic and effect of the bakufu’s sumptuary regulations. On the other, the theatre created plots and heroes that more explicitly ran against the dictates of official morality. In this lecture, Alan Cummings will explore the trope of explicit criminality in the plays of the 1850s and 1860s to argue that the use of criminal heroes is emblematic of a wider popular discourse on, and representation of, criminality that encompassed oral narrative forms like kōdan and that worked against a number of opposing, official narratives on justice and punishment.

Alan Cummings received his MA from Waseda University, and his BA and PhD from the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London. He is currently a Senior Teaching Fellow at SOAS. His research interests include kabuki dramaturgy, pre-modern literature, and post-war performance. His recent publications include Haiku: Love (British Museum Press, 2013), and “Benten the Thief” in Jones & Watanabe (eds.), An Edo Anthology: Literature from Japan’s Mega-City, 1750-1850 (University of Hawai’i Press, 2013).

Date: Monday 17 August 2015, 6.45pm
Venue: The Swedenborg Society, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way (Hall entrance on Barter St), London WC1A 2TH

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