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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 Four: Thematic Structure



The title of the Yuan zaju drama Dou E yuan, or Injustice to Dou E, consists of the name of the protagonist Dou E and the thematic word yuan (injustice). Hence the title itself directly reveals the dominant theme of this Yuan zaju—yuan or injustice. With regard to the original Chinese meaning of this character for “injustice,” we can consult the Shuowen jiezi (or Shuowen for short) in which the lexicographer Xu Shen explained the semantic compounds of this character.1 First, we can look at the two written forms of the character. The form on the left is in small-seal script (xiaozhuan ), while the form on the right is in regular script (kaishu ),2 as shown below:

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A close look at the xiaozhuan form reveals that the inside component is the pictograph of a rabbit, and the outside looks like a roof. If we turn to the kaishu form, we notice that the outside component in the xiaozhuan form has become simplified as signifying “house or cover.” Categorizing the character into the “rabbit radical” section (tubu ) in the Shouwen, Xu Shen interpreted yuan as “… to bend. [It is] compounded of the characters for rabbit and cover. A rabbit is covered and immovable, so it bends down. [It is] pronounced like Y-and-ÜAN. (qu ye cong tu cong jiong tu zai jiong xia bu de zou yi qu zhe ye yu yuan qie )”3 Therefore the character yuan is a...

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