History Of Kabuki Theatre

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Kabuki : Crossdressing Throughout the Ages

Burton Weaver

When we as Western theatre scholars think of ancient forms of theatre, instantly thoughts of Greek tragedies and Shakespearean plays come to mind. However, the East also has a rich theatrical history, especially in Japan. The Noh theatre, a popular form in Japan, dates back as early as the 14th Century. Another most popular form in Japan came to fruition a bit later, the earliest records being found at the beginning of the 17th Century. Perhaps the most interesting and wildly fantastic theatrical experience in Japan is the Kabuki Theatre. There are few styles of Theatre in the world that are as fascinating as the Kabuki, the whole experience is like
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In this regard, it makes perfect sense that the Kabuki theatre has had a generally fruitful and successful history. For most of its existence, the Kabuki has been performed by an all-male cast known as the onnagata. Today, women of course are allowed to perform as onnagata actors, but traditionally this job has been reserved for the most skilled male Japanese actors. To succeed in this act, the actors learn a highly stylized set of movements known as the kata. When these movements are mastered, the actors exude femininity, and even claim to be more woman than a true flesh-and-blood woman could ever possibly be. In this paper, I wish to explore the audience perception of these gender roles created in the Kabuki, and how they reflect upon our…show more content…
The simplicity of the form is both simple, yet mind blowing. While it may have physically limited the ability for women actors to succeed and work in the profession of stage acting, it has had a great effect on the fluidity of the male gender in Japanese culture. On the whole, Japanese men are less afraid to be in touch with their feminine side, and what would be viewed as being “weak”, or “girly” in Western culture is just perceived as being a normal, human emotion. Without the contributions of the onnagata, perhaps Japanese would not be so comfortable with their feminine side.


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Morinaga, Maki. “The Gender of Onnagata as the Imitating Imitated: Its Historicity, Performativity, and Involvement in the Circulation of Femininity.” Project Muse
Accessed October 20th, 2017 http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/positions/v010/10.2morinaga.html

MORINAGA, MAKI. ONNAGATA: A Labyrinth of Gendering in Kabuki Theater. UNIV OF WASHINGTON PRESS, 2017.

Chris Kincaid. A Look at Gender Expectations in Japanese Society
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