Hamlet and the 47 Ronin

Did Shakespeare Read Chushingura?

in Critical Survey
Graham Holderness University of Hertfordshire, UK

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The importation of Shakespeare into Japan in the late 19th century and early 20th centuries, following the opening of Japan to the outside world effected by the Meiji empire, generated a culture clash between the antiquity of the plays themselves, and the identification of Shakespeare with modern English drama. Harue Tsutsumi's play Kanadehon Hamlet explores this conflict, dramatizing the difficulties encountered by a troupe of Japanese actors attempting to perform Hamlet, when their deeper loyalty is to the traditional Japanese revenge play Kanadehon Chushingura. Homing in on a crucial moment in the development of Japanese theatre and Japanese culture, Tsutsumi uses these cultural clashes to map out the possibilities of common ground, the emergence within Japan first of an informed and educated understanding of western drama, and subsequently the development of specifically Japanese appropriations of Shakespeare in which the two cultures can achieve a complex but dynamic engagement.

Contributor Notes

Graham Holderness has published more than sixty books of criticism, theory, theology and fiction. Recent publications include (in criticism) Nine Lives of William Shakespeare (Bloomsbury, 2011) and The Faith of William Shakespeare (Lion Books, 2016); and (in fiction) Black and Deep Desires: William Shakespeare Vampire Hunter (Top Hat Books, 2016) and Meat, Murder, Malfeasance, Medicine and Martyrdom: Smithfield Stories (Edward Everett Root, 2019). He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Hertfordshire. His new book Samurai Shakespeare: Early Modern Tragedy in Feudal Japan is published by Edward Everett Root in 2022.

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