First Advisor

Laurence Kominz

Date of Publication

Spring 6-13-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Japanese


World Languages and Literatures




Nō plays -- History and criticism, Demonology, Kanze Kojiro Nobumitsu -- Criticism and interpretation, Zeami (1363-1443) -- Criticism and interpretation, Japanese drama -- History -- Muromachi period (1336-1573)



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 174 pages)


Noh is often described as a drama of the exploration of the soul. This focus on the human soul is largely attributed to Zeami Motokiyo ä (c. 1363-c. 1443), the greatest playwright in the history of noh drama. This thesis, however, attempts a more comprehensive examination of the characteristics of noh plays by including works by Kanze Nobumitsu (1435-1516). Zeami and Nobumitsu wrote several demon noh plays, which are plays whose primary characters are demons. There are significant differences in characterization and dramaturgy between Zeami's demon noh in the early Muromachi period, the era of noh's founding, and Nobumitsu's onitaiji-mono noh (demon killing noh) in the late Muromachi period, two generations later. In this thesis, I analyze three works by each of those two eminent noh playwrights in order to identify similarities and differences among their works and to compare their styles, structure, theatrical conventions, and use of literary sources. Each of these playwrights represents his era in Japanese literary and political history. By examining socio-cultural aspects of these plays, this thesis will illuminate the changes in Japan's core values over a span of two generations.

Nobumitsu's demon noh plays represent these shifting core values among his patrons who were, like Zeami's, comprised of samurai elites. The social ethos of unification and inclusion in the cultural circle of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) significantly impacted Zeami's plays. For his patrons like Yoshimitsu, the integration of the aristocratic aesthetics into his plays was essential. Zeami emphasized aristocratic beauty, mysterious gracefulness (yūgen), spiritual salvation, and the Zen Buddhist tenets of non-duality, creating complex, humanized demon characters. However, the warrior elite changed significantly in two generations. Nobumitsu's major patrons were powerful warlords during the period when private ambition and revenge prevailed among the samurai and political and military authority was much more fluid than in Zeami's era. For Nobumitsu's patrons, samurai's bravery and resourcefulness were crucial. His waki warrior heroes engage in spectacular combat on stage, fighting and killing powerful, evil demons and kill them. Regional warlords presented these plays to impress their allies, rivals, and their own retainers to expand their prestige in the age of chaos.

New developments in Nobumitsu's noh, make his plays more kabuki-like than Zeami's noh had been. Later forms of theater, kabuki and puppet theater (ningyō jōruri) assimilated noh's aesthetics by adapting some noh and kyōgen plays throughout its history. Noh drama provided compelling characters and fictional worlds for a variety of plays in kabuki and puppet theater. As early as the mid-Muromachi period, Zeami created humanized demon characters which later playwrights of later genres appropriated for their plays. Nobumitsu created spectacular stage which re-shaped theater and prepared the way for later developments of kabuki and puppet theater in Edo period (1600-1868).


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