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Chikamatsu Monzaemon-Four Major Plays

Chikamatsu Monzaemon, in Four Major Plays, examines the impact of the class system on male-female relations among average citizens of Japan (focusing on the merchant class) in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Chikamatsu was among the first major Japanese writers to use as his subject the lives of the common people, as well as a contemporary setting in which to examine those lives and their hardships. In the two "love suicides" poems in the current volume, the playwright examines the tragic outcome of love hindered by class requirements. While the period was marked by artistic and cultural flowering, the lives of the merchant class remained constricted by class expectations imposed by a strict militaristic and bureaucratic society. The impact of this class structure and its related standards for behavior on the lives and relationships of the common people, especially romantic relationships between men and women of different social standing, serves as a major focus of Chikamatsu's plays.

Chikamatsu's The Love Suicides at Sonezaki is an earlier play than The Love Suicides at Amijima. The latter play shows the playwright's growing skill as an artist, particularly in the increased complexity of his characters and their relationships, although the plot of the two plays is quite similar. The plays reflected Chikamatsu's determination and growing ability to portray to his audiences the lives of characters to whom that audience could relate emotionally and psychologically. Chikamatsu was also among the first major Japanese writers to engage his merchant class audience in such direct terms. The tragedies of the couples in the two plays were easily understandable by that audience, for their suffering took place in the same world inhabited by the audience. As Donald Keene writes in his Introduction to the plays, the audience did not need a new plot to engage them, nor did Chikamatsu feel (at least in these two plays) a need to provide...

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