Date of Award


Document Type

Senior Scholars Paper (Open Access)


Colby College. East Asian Studies Dept.


George Elison

Second Advisor

Albert A. Mavrinac

Third Advisor

H. Eleanor Kerkham


The play Osome and Hisamatsu: Their Amorous History, Read All About It (Osome Hisamatsu ukina no yomiuri) written in 1813 is a representative work of the kabuki playwright Tsuruya Nanboku IV and reflects his distinctive features as an author. The basic love story of Osome and Hisamatsu was a popular one in kabuki from the eighteenth century on, and there had been performed various versions of the story; however, Nanboku's play is not a rewrite of these previous works. It is, instead, a technical tour de force completely transformed into the Nanboku style. In Osome and Hisamatsu, Nanboku exploits all the possibilities of the hayagawari or quick-change technique, in which a leading actor plays several roles at once. The technique is carried to the extreme in this play, with the leading actor playing almost all the major roles. This requires split-second timing and a high level of skill, and Nanboku found an actor equal to the task ln Iwai Hanshiro V, for whom especially he wrote the play. Due to Tokugawa government restrictions, women were not allowed to perform on the stage and this led to the development of the onnagata, actors specialized in woman's roles. The art of the onnagata was refined and polished to a high degree, and Hanshiro was the leading practitioner of his day. In this play he was called on to portray practically all the types in the onnagata repertory, including a young well-bred girl, a lady-in-waiting of a daimyo house, a young man of good family, a hard-boiled brazen of a woman, a dignified motherly type, a madwoman, and a humble country wife. In some performances the lead onnagata may also take the role of a geisha.


Japanese drama


Caryl A. Callahan (translator) and Tsuruya Nanboku (Playwright)