Rarified, Recondite, and Abstruse: Zeami’s Nine Stages

By Joseph Houseal
Noh mask, Zo Onna, 19th century. Sculptor unknown. Zo Onna signifies a beautiful, slightly older woman who has experienced tragedy and gained wisdom. It expresses a more composed and elegant figure than a younger woman. From Core of Culture.
If you ever have the chance to see a real Japanese Noh performance, seize the day. Noh is among mankind’s greatest artistic achievements. The metaphysical and practical aspects of Buddhism transform the art of Noh into something immediate and spiritual. But it is art, not religion. Zeami (c.1363 – c.1443), the 14th century founder, playwright, and theorist of Noh, made sure of this as he transformed street theater ghost-possession tales into an elaborate, minimalist, multi-art theater form. Trance artists possessed by the ghosts of historical figures were replaced with actors depicting legendary historical characters as spirit beings who cannot escape the Wheel of Life and Death, and so cannot attain enlightenment. It has been said of Noh that characters do not enter and exit, rather they appear and disappear. [More]

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