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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 Six: Musical Structure (I)


← 142 | 143 →CHAPTER SIX

Like all other Yuan playwrights, Guan Hanqing and later editors of his zaju did not compose melodies for Dou E yuan, but chose from the pre-existing repertory of tunes those that they thought were appropriate.1 When writing a song and then setting it to a tune, a playwright not only made sure that the diction was consistent with a certain versification, such as the principles of the metrical system of poetic arias in Yuan zaju,2 but also was required to conform with musical ← 143 | 144 →conventions, since Yuan zaju, after all, was conceived as a kind of musical drama created for stage performance. There were many rigid rules and requirements for Guan Hanqing (and other zaju playwrights and editors) to follow, and one of them was that the lyrics of an aria had to fit in with the melody used.

Traditional Chinese drama has two principal types of music structure: lianquti (joined-song-form) and banqiangti (banqiang-form). In lianquti musical structure, a large number of qupai (literally, “song types”) are usually arranged in a specific order in sets. Wichmann in her Listening to Theatre translates qupai into English as fixed-melodies and provides the following definition: “fixed-melodies are longer, more complete melodies, often in irregular-length lines, in which rhythm and basic melodic progression are essentially set. Each is individually named.”3 These two concepts of lianquti and qupai will be important to Chapter 6, 7 and 8. A Yuan zaju playwright writes lyrics to...

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