Authors: Chikamatsu Monzaemon

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Japanese playwright

Author Works


Yotsugi Soga, pr. 1683

Shusse Kagekiyo, pr. 1686

Semimaru, pr. 1686 (English translation, 1978)

Sonezaki shinjū, pr. 1703 (The Love Suicides at Sonezaki, 1961)

Yōmei Tennō Shokunin Kagami, pr. 1705

Horikawa nami no tsuzumi, pr. 1706 (The Drum of the Waves of Horikawa, 1961)

Shinjū Kasaneizutsu, pr. 1707

Tamba Yosaku, pr. 1708 (Yosaku from Tamba, 1961)

Shinjū Mannensf, pr. 1708 (The Love Suicides in the Women’s Temple, 1961)

Keisei Hangokō, pr. 1708

Meido no hikyaku, pr. 1711 (The Courier for Hell, 1961)

Yugiri Awa no Naruto, pr. 1712

Kokusenya kassen, pr. 1715 (The Battles of Coxinga, 1951)

Yari no Gonza, pr. 1717 (Gonza the Lancer, 1961)

Nebiki no kadomatsu, pr. 1718 (The Uprooted Pine, 1961)

Soga kaikeizan, pr. 1718 (The Soga Revenge, 1929)

Heike nyogo no shima, pr. 1719 (English translation, 1979)

Hakata Kojorō Namimakura, pr. 1719 (The Girl from Hakata: Or, Love at Sea, 1961)

Shinjū ten no Amijima, pr. 1721 (The Love Suicides at Amijima, 1953)

Onnagoroshi: Abura Jigoku, pr. 1721 (The Woman-Killer and the Hell of Oil, 1961)

Major Plays of Chikamatsu, pb. 1961

Chikamatsu: Five Late Plays, pb. 2001


The playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (chee-kah-maht-sew mohn-sah-ehm-ohn) wrote the first plays of lasting value for both the Bunraku (puppet) and Kabuki theaters, yet little is known of his personal life. He was probably born in 1653 in Fukui, Japan, as Sugimori Nobumori to a warrior family. After losing his post, his father moved the family to Kyoto when Chikamatsu was ten or eleven, and the boy developed an interest in haikai poetry and Japanese classical literature while serving as a page in the household of a nobleman. Yotsugi Soga (the soga heir) was an instant success and established Chikamatsu’s name as a dramatist. Although he is credited with more than one hundred puppet plays as well as an estimated twenty-six to forty plays for the Kabuki stage, his authorship of a number of them is disputed.{$I[AN]9810000573}{$I[A]Chikamatsu Monzaemon}{$S[A]Sugimori Nobumori;Chikamatsu Monzaemon}{$I[geo]JAPAN;Chikamatsu Monzaemon}{$I[tim]1653;Chikamatsu Monzaemon}

Chikamatsu’s dramas fall into two general types: historical plays, which make up the majority, and domestic plays. They range in time from Japan’s legendary Age of the Gods to current events of his day. The theme of all of his plays is the conflict between love and duty. Virtue is generally triumphant. If the plot does not permit a happy ending, the moral or social code is vindicated by the suicide of the offenders. This is particularly the case with the domestic plays, the tragedies ending in “love suicide,” in which the lovers decide that their present plight results from past sins and thus seek the next life, where they hope they may become husband and wife. Chikamatsu, with his wide range of knowledge, both in the Japanese classics and in quotations from Chinese writings, ranged widely through Confucian ethics, Buddhist ideas of the afterlife, and the predicaments of human life. In whatever historical time his play is cast, it is written in the language and the manner of his contemporaries. His puppet plays were mostly written for the famous reciter Takemoto Gidayu (1651-1714), and his Kabuki plays for the celebrated actor Sakata Tojuro (1647-1709). About 1705, Chikamatsu became staff playwright for the Takemoto Theater; it was after this date that he reached his greatest heights. He is celebrated today as Japan’s greatest playwright.

BibliographyBrandon, James R., ed. Chushingura: Studies in Kabuki and the Puppet Theater. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1982. Focuses on performance aspects of the Kabuki and Bunraku theaters.Brazell, Karen, ed. Traditional Japanese Theater: An Anthology of Plays. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. Includes one of Chikamatsu’s love suicide plays as well as introductions describing the genre and the specific play.Gerstle, C. Andrew. Circles of Fantasy: Convention in the Plays of Chikamatsu. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986. A study of the plays of Chikamatsu, focusing on literary conventions. Bibliography and index.Gerstle, C. Andrew. “Heroic Honor: Chikamatsu and the Samurai Ideal.” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 57, no. 2 (December, 1997): 307-381. A look at the samurai in the play Kanhasshu tsunagi-uma (Tethered Steed and the Eight Provinces of Kanto).Heine, Steve. “Tragedy and Salvation in the Floating World: Chikamatsu’s Double Suicide Drama as Millenarian Discourse.” The Journal of Asian Studies 53, no. 2 (May, 1994): 367. Chikamatsu’s dramas are examined in the light of Buddhist and Confucian theology regarding double suicide.Kawatake, Toshio. Chikamatsu Monzaemon, 1653-1724. Tokyo: Japanese National Commission for Unesco, 1974. Written at the request of the commission for the anniversary of Chikamatsu’s death.Keene, Donald L. Introduction to Major Plays of Chikamatsu. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961. Provides a survey of Chikamatsu’s career and era; an overview of the subjects, characters, and performances of his domestic plays; and an analysis of their rhetorical, religious, and structural aspects.Keene, Donald L. World Within Walls: Japanese Literature of the Pre-modern Era, 1600-1867. 1976. Reprint. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. Devotes a chapter to Chikamatsu’s life and times, focusing on the stories told in his dramas, their artistic strengths and failings, and their reception by contemporary audiences.Kominz, Laurence R. Avatars of Vengeance: Japanese Drama and the Soga Literary Tradition. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 1995. An examination of the story of the Soga brothers’ failed vendetta through its retelling in Nō, Kabuki, and Bunraku. Chikamatsu wrote thirteen plays about the Soga brothers.Leiter, Samuel L. New Kabuki Encyclopedia: A Revised Adaptation of Kabuki Jiten. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997. Chikamatsu’s life and works are discussed.Pringle, Patricia. ed. An Interpretive Guide to Bunraku. Honolulu: University of Hawaii, 1992. Prepared as part of the Bunraku Puppet Theatre of Japan Artists-in-Residence Program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.Sakamoto, Edward. “The Ancient Artistry of Bunraku: A Japanese Puppet Theater Keeps a Four-Hundred-Year-Old Tradition Alive.” Los Angeles Times, September 25, 1988, p. 3. An introduction to Bunraku and Chikamatsu written on the occasion of the Bunraku Puppet Theatre of Osaka performing one of Chikamatsu’s works in Los Angeles.Sasayama, Takashi, J. R. Mulryne, and Margaret Shewring, eds. Shakespeare and the Japanese Stage. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Contains a comparison of Chikamatsu and William Shakespeare.
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