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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 Five: Narrative Structure


← 108 | 109 →CHAPTER FIVE

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a classic theatrical character with specific personality traits, and so is Jia Baoyu, a leading character in the Honglou meng by Cao Xueqin. I use the word “character” in the traditional sense of the term, and it denotes an anthropomorphic being, namely a human person, an animal, or a personate or animate thing. Strictly speaking, all characters involved in literary works—whether they are major or minor, dynamic or static, consistent or inconsistent, and flat or round1—have their qualities. Moreover, when an author creates and builds up a character, he employs certain techniques to delineate the quality of the character. The speeches, attitudes, mannerisms, and even physical appearance of a character can greatly affect the other major elements of a literary work.

All of these elements that depict a character’s qualities, however, are not the focal points of structural-narratologists, who believe that the essence of a character is necessarily associated with “function (or action).” For instance, Vladimir Propp (1895–1970) argued that there was a limited set of eight broad dramatis personae in the context of the sphere(s) of action presented in the corpus of 100 Russian fairy ← 109 | 110 →tales that he analyzed.2 By analyzing characters and action types, Propp concluded that there were 31 functions—generic and irreducible narratemes—whose characteristics can be summarized as follows:

(1)The functions of characters serve as stable, constant elements in a tale, independent of how...

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