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

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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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Appendix: Synopsis

← 206 | 207Appendix: Synopsis

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Wedge: The play begins in the wedge with the Scholar Dou Tianzhang in debt to Cai Popo, a money-lender. He settles his debt by giving his young daughter Dou Duanyun to Cai Popo as her future daughter-in-law. He treats his daughter as a good that is to be sold, a commodity to exchange in barter to clear his debts.

Act I: In the first act, the scene opens some thirteen years later when Dou Duanyun, now renamed Dou E, “the beauty Dou,” is a recently widowed young woman of twenty. Her mother-in-low, Cai Popo, has gone to collect a debt from the local physician Sai Luyi. Sai is unable to pay back his loan so he lures Cai Popo outside the city wall with the intention of strangling her. This attempted murder is thwarted by the appearance of Zhang Lao’er and his son, Zhang Lü’er, who rush to save the imperilled old woman. When asked to identify herself, Cai Popo blurts out that she and her daughter-in-law are two well-off widows and live alone by themselves. Zhang Lü’er immediately presses Cai Popo to take them in marriage. She tries to buy them off with money—repaying her debt to them in economic form—but they insist on marriage as the only method of proper repayment.

Act II: In the second act, Cai Popo becomes ill and asks Dou E to make her some mutton tripe soup. Zhang Lü’er seizes the opportunity...

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