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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Plot evolution and character transformation in Shihou ji (The Lioness’s Roar) on the traditional Kunqu Stage Qiu, Yanting


The traditional Chinese theatre of Kunqu, also known as Kunju, is a highly stylized and conventionalized theatre genre evolved from the melody of Kunshan, which emerged in 14th century and became the dominant style of private, commercial, and even court stages from the 16th to 18th centuries. Defined by its conventions and regarded as “the ancestor of hundreds of [Chinese] theatrical genres,” Kunqu became an audience-centered theatre, whereby audience’s preferences reshaped not only the characters but also the plots of plays on stage. Playscripts of Kunqu originated as chuanqi (southern drama), plays written by literati dramatists from the 15th to 18th centuries. Their arias follow very strict prosodic rules and follow the tonal patterns and rhyme schemes of classical poetry. Kunqu’s music also follows rules based on the tones of each character; such is the refinement of its lyrics that it was a nearly impossible task for the actors, who were mostly illiterate, to change the lines. However, Kunqu troupes still managed to convert the plots and characters of a play by changing the fundamental stage conventions rather than the texts. An example of such conversion is Shihou ji (The Lioness’s Roar), a play that has undergone an amazing transformation, from a shrew-taming chuanqi in thirty scenes written in the mid-Ming dynasty to a husband-taming play in four scenes popular in the mid-Qing. Regardless of the chuanqi playwright’s intention to inculcate the orthodox Confucian principle of the husband’s supremacy in the domestic sphere, the second half of his play, in which the wife gets tamed, was abandoned by actors. What survived on the Kunqu stage are four acts from the first half, in which the husband suffers punishments and gets convinced that following one’s wife is by all means a right thing to do. This thematic changeover was mainly achieved by the changing of role types, costumes, and make-up of the main characters. In addition, a few lines added as dialogue and some stage movements created by actors on stage also helped to give a new look to the play.

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