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Dancing the Dharma

Dancing the Dharma

Religious and Political Allegory in Japanese Noh Theater

Susan Blakeley Klein

ISBN 9780674247840

Publication date: 04/06/2021

Dancing the Dharma examines the theory and practice of allegory by exploring a select group of medieval Japanese noh plays and treatises. Susan Blakeley Klein demonstrates how medieval esoteric commentaries on the tenth-century poem-tale Ise monogatari (Tales of Ise) and the first imperial waka poetry anthology Kokin wakashū influenced the plots, characters, imagery, and rhetorical structure of seven plays (Maiguruma, Kuzu no hakama, Unrin’in, Oshio, Kakitsubata, Ominameshi, and Haku Rakuten) and two treatises (Zeami’s Rikugi and Zenchiku’s Meishukushū). In so doing, she shows that it was precisely the allegorical mode—vital to medieval Japanese culture as a whole—that enabled the complex layering of character and poetic landscape we typically associate with noh. Klein argues that understanding noh’s allegorical structure and paying attention to the localized historical context for individual plays are key to recovering their original function as political and religious allegories. Now viewed in the context of contemporaneous beliefs and practices of the medieval period, noh plays take on a greater range and depth of meaning and offer new insights to readers today into medieval Japan.


  • Takes a fresh and illuminating approach to the interpretation of Noh texts. …This book is deeply interdisciplinary, and Klein is painstaking in her efforts to address the religious and historical contexts needed to capture a glimpse of how Muromachi readers and audiences may have thought about these texts. Dancing the Dharma should appeal to a broad range of readers, including specialists in literary studies, history, drama, poetics, and religious studies, and it makes a significant contribution to scholarship in all those fields.

    —Shelley Fenno Quinn, Journal of Asian Studies


  • Susan Blakeley Klein is Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture and Director of Religious Studies at the University of California, Irvine.

Book Details

  • 424 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center

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