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A Study on the Thematic, Narrative, and Musical Structure of Guan Hanqing’s Yuan «Zaju, Injustice to Dou E»


Yumin Ao

This book is a study of the thematic, narrative, and musical structure of Yuanqu xuan [A Selection of Yuan Plays] edition of the Yuan zaju (variety play) Dou E yuan [Injustice to Dou E] originally composed by the highly regarded playwright Guan Hanqing (fl. 1260). Although other authors have studied these three aspects of Dou E yuan separately, this is the first comprehensive treatment of the topic as a scholarly monograph in English. Yumin Ao’s analysis is based on the edition of the play in the Yuanqu xuan [A Selection of Yuan Plays] compiled by the Ming publisher Zang Maoxun (ca. 1550–1620). Ao proposes that Dou E yuan, as a dramatic narrative which develops through its enactment on the stage rather than by verbal presentation as a story, displays its integrative structure of narration through its thematic development and within its musical conventions.
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Chapter One: Guan Hanqing, His Zaju Composition and the Editions of Dou E yuan



On the basis of the sources from the Yuan period, we can assume that the compositions of the Yuan dramatists were excluded from the canon of Chinese literature at that time. Although little is known about his life, Guan Hanqing was a very prolific zaju playwright and had rich experience of contemporary theatre performance. Guan Hanqing, however, suffered historical neglect, and there was no scholarly work specifically devoted to him until the second half of the twentieth century.1 Only since then has Guan Hanqing been regarded as one of the most ← 13 | 14 → important Yuan zaju masters. Guan Hanqing was a landmark figure in the history of traditional Chinese theatre, and was as significant in his own way for Chinese drama as Shakespeare was for the history of English theatre.

But we must also note that many basic details of Guan Hanqing’s life are disputed, and we do not have any original play scripts of Dou E yuan written by Guan Hanqing himself. Guan Hanqing’s plays were mutable, dramatic products enacted on the stage and written in various versions. The earliest GMJ edition of Dou E yuan appears to have been based on play scripts from the Ming imperial archives, as were other commercial editions. The authors and editors of these texts probably modified the form of the play.2 We now also know that the standard edition of the play in the YQX has been edited and modified by Zang Maoxun, with changes made...

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