Buddhist Structures and Secular Themes in Zeami's Narrative Style

Noel J. Pinnington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


This study is a contribution to the question of the Buddhist character of medieval No¯ drama. Previous studies have analyzed references to Buddhism or expressions of Buddhist practices in No¯ plays. This study, however, focuses on the discourse through which plays tell their stories. It asks how the stereotypical structure for plays established by Zeami enabled the expression of voices conceived of within a Buddhist world-view. First, techniques used in some early plays to describe Buddhist ideas are considered. Next, the structural conventions developed by Zeami to portray similar subjects are investigated. It is shown how, in plays in which ghosts appear to Buddhist priests (mugen no¯), Zeami's system was well suited to expressing the contrast between the minds of beings on the Buddhist path and those trapped in delusion. Finally, three plays are explored which used these same conventions to represent more complex characters. These can be understood as exhibiting the adequacy of the Buddhist world-view to the expression of wider themes. The last play considered, which describes an elderly poetess, is the most successful. In it, Zeami's conventions produce both a recognizable portrait of an old woman, whilst at the same time exposing analogies between her predicament and that of deluded ghosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-221
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Religion in Japan
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2013


  • Buddhism
  • Buddhist confession
  • Kyo¯gen Kigo
  • No¯
  • Zeami
  • poetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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