UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

This too, too solid flesh : the representation of Ono no Komachi as an old woman in Noh plays Murphy, Anthea Lea


Ono no Komachi, the ninth century Heian poet, features in five Noh plays from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries that are still in the repertory, the most of any woman, as her reputation for skill in poetry and the many legends about her made her an excellent choice for a main character. Most of the plays overtly feature poetry as a main theme, while often depicting her as an old woman. These plays pick up on themes which were already common in the legends about Komachi, including her destitution in old age and her use as a symbol of mujō, or impermanence. However, the ways they deal with these themes differ considerably from their precedents. This thesis examines three plays, Sotoba Komachi, Sekidera Komachi, and Ōmu Komachi, that deal with Komachi as an old woman and the ways in which they construct the relationship between women’s bodies, their poetry, and medieval Japanese Buddhism. Far from being celebrations of Komachi’s skill, the plays in fact control, degrade, and otherwise marginalize Komachi’s poetry through constructing her body as vulnerable, powerless and incapable, and controlling her relationship to areas and people of poetic power, particularly Tamatsushima shrine, the capital, and Sotoori-hime. By examining the revisions and changes made by the playwrights to the sources used in the plays, the thesis suggests that these three plays create a Komachi who acts as symbol of the impermanence of women’s poetry and of poetry-based social mobility for women.

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