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The warrior maiden and the divorcée : the universal past tense of the traditional chinese theatre Stenberg, Joshua Sidney

Abstract

in this essay, I examine two rather different “historical” narratives of the traditional stage in order to identify the specific temporal relationship between the historical record and the Chinese stage. The first example, the story of Zhu Maichen and his wife, traces the narrative of a female-initiated divorce from its initial appearance in canonical history, through fiction and poetry, and into late Imperial and ultimately modem and contemporary Kunju theatre, with reference to related theatre traditions. As social mores shifted, the narrative was alteredto fit with meanings appropriate to the times. The second example, “Slaying the Tiger,” (Ci hu) examines the story of a female assassin as it appears in unofficial and standard histories, and in the Kunju tradition. The narrative plays fast and loose with historical “fact” in order to enhance its theatrical effect. The character of the main character is formed not by historical record, but by xiqu convention. Costume and props do not indicate era. Representations of history in traditional Chinese theatre take place in a single, unspecific past tense; history is mined as a repository of “stories” (the vocabulary of the theatre) but does not bear on the manner of the telling.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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