Making Cordelia, a Modern Noh Play Innovating Shakespeare’s King Lear

Cordelia ScrippsThe San Francisco-based Theatre of Yugen will lecture and perform excerpts from Cordelia, a unique Japanese Noh interpretation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, on March 5th at 7:30 pm at Scripps College Performing Arts Center. The adaptation emphasizes the point of view of Cordelia, Lear’s youngest daughter and the play’s heroine. Actors and musicians perform a modified version of Shakespearean dialogue that has been translated into Japanese and realized in the poetic, lyrical style of Noh, which requires that many of them wear masks while in character.

In 1911, Natsume Soseki, theatre critic for the Asahi Shimbun and professor of English at Tokyo University, suggested that if Shakespeare was to be translated into Japanese it might be interesting to realize it in the unique poetic style of Noh, Japan’s masked lyric drama. Surprisingly few attempts to bring together these theatrical traditions have been attempted in the intervening one hundred years. 

Most Western tragedies end with the death of the hero or heroine. In Noh, death is often not the end but rather the beginning. In 2011, Theatre of Yugen (American) brought together Noh (Japanese) and Shakespearean (English) theatre to create Cordelia. Afterward labeled “a modern Noh play,” and conceived as a phantasmal warrior play, it tightly weaves together an aggressively modified Shakespearean text by playwright Erik Ehn, musical composition for Western instrumentation by Suki O’Kane, and altered Noh choreographic gestures.

The event is part of the Scripps College Humanities Institute’s spring lecture series, “Music, Dance, Ritual and Belief: Transforming Societies” in which distinguished artists examine the interplay of music and dance in ritual customs and beliefs. The free event will take place in Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center, 231 E. 10th Street, Claremont CA, 91711. For more information, please call (909) 621-8237 or visit www.scrippscollege.edu/hi.

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