Born in Echizen, Japan in 1653 with the name of "Sugimore
Nobumori", Chikamatsu Monzaemon was to become perhaps the
greatest dramatist in the history of the Japanese theatre. Born
into a Samurai family, Chikamatsu's father went ronin,
abandoning his feudal duties sometime between 1664 and 1670,
and moving his family to Kyoto where they became attached
to the local court aristocracy. This is most likely where Chikamatsu
first became involved with the theatre.
Chikamatsu is said to have written over one hundred plays,
most of which were written for the bunraku or puppet theatre.
Legend has it that he wrote one of his plays in a single night.
His works combine comedy and tragedy, poetry and prose, and present
scenes of combat, torture, and suicide on stage.
Most of Chikamatsu's domestic tragedies are based an actual
events. His Sonezaki shinju or The Love Suicides
at Sonezaki, for example, was based on reports of an actual
double suicide. In this play, an apprentice clerk and his lover,
a prostitute in the pleasure quarters, finding no other way to
be together, decide to commit a double suicide so that they can
at least be united in death.
Chikamatsu's most famous play, the Kikusenya Kassen
or Battles of the Kikusenya, tells the story of a Tarter
king's invasion of China after his demand for the Ming emperor's
favorite concubine as the price of friendship is denied. A traitorous
Chinese minister gives the signal for the invasion by stabbing
out his own eye with a dagger, but a Chinese general, Go Sankei,
miraculously defeats the huge Tarter army with a handful of soldiers.
Unfortunately, the emperor's enemies have cut off his head during
the battle and captured his concubine. Go Sankei rescues the
concubine who is pregnant with the emperor's child, but when
she is later hit by a bullet, he is forced to perform a Caesarean
section in full view of the audience to save the imperial heir.
He then sacrifices his own child in front of the Tarters in order
to convince them that emperor's son is dead.
In 1705, Chikamatsu moved to Osaka where he became
a writer for Takemoto Gidayu's puppet theatre. He remained
in Osaka until his death in 1725. Although he is generally
considered the Shakespeare of Japanese
theatre, Chikamatsu's work is rarely performed, mainly because
of the declining popularity of bunraku. Fortunately, several
of his plays have been adapted for use in Kabuki theatre and