Kyogen and its Essence

Ever since its establishment in the Muromachi period, Kyogen has always been
considered a subordinate of the Noh Theater. It has been regarded as something
of less seriousness and of only a simplistic comedy play, which can never stand
on the same level as the more sophisticated and serious Noh. Whenever I hear
people talk about Noh and Kyogen, people refer to Kyogen as easier to be
understood of the two and funny, therefore there is no need to dwell deeper. For
example, a commentator at the beginning of Noh/Kyogen performance in Kanagawa
Pref. Introduced the Noh play, Takasago, in great detail. He touched on the
historical siginificance of Shinto shrines at Takasago and Suma and on how yugen
is portrayed in the play, whereas Kyogen was introduced in rather shallow
manner. He explained that since Kyogen is so much easier to watch and comprehend
there is not much need for him to go into detail.

The commentator does have a point in that Kyogen is easier to follow than Noh
plays when one considers only the outer surface plot line. In order to follow a
Noh play, one has to have some historical knowledge of the time and of the
complex emotion the characters are trying to portray, whereas Kyogen is, simply,
about silly lords, servants, son-in-law, priest, devils whom everybody can
somehow relate to. Yet in this paper, I will make a statement that Kyogen is not
just about following the basic plot line and laughing about the silly acts of
the characters. In order to really appreciate Kyogen, one has to try to break
through the outer surface and try to reach the core, where the essence is. And
the essence, I believe is that these silly characters are not much different
from us, the audience. Thus we must take a look at these characters and their
actions and compare them to our own. The mistakes we make everyday and the
embarrassing moment we face everyday are being portrayed by these Kyogen actors
and in the play for us. I believe Kyogen has been looked down upon throughout
its history in the shadow of Noh Theater. I am arguing here to reconsider this
distorted perspective on Kyogen by looking deeper into what I think is the
essence of Kyogen.

First, I will present some of the comments made by scholars and critiques who
have helped shape this distorted view that Kyogen is something less than Noh.
The Japanese encyclopedia says that Kyogen is a light, comedy play, which gets
played in between more serious and heavy Noh. It goes on to say that Kyogen is
played in order to loosen up the audience from the stiff performance of Noh.
Again this causes problem, because it bases its comment on the premise that
Kyogen is not a serious play. In order to enhance this distortion, other
respected scholars have commented on the same line. Ienaga Saburo states in
Nihon Bunka Shi that the manner of Kyogen, its bluntness, lacks profoundness and
its structure is very weak in imagination and uniquess. He goes on to argue that
one has to admit the artistic shallowness of Kyogen when compared to the Noh
theater (p. 212).

Tada Tomio in his article for Nogakushichou, touches on the shallowness of
Kyogen compared to Noh. He states that Noh, with is uniqueness and imagainative
manner, has created a world of its own. Whereas Kyogen lacks the proufound
script that is avilable for Noh and is only a skit for elementary kids. Tada
argues strongly the danger of performing only Kyogen, because he believes that
Kyogen is not a comedy in its true nature, since it does not try to answer the
problems we humans face everyday.

In my view, these two scholars are missing the whole point of how to view
Kyogen. They are only following the story line and forgetting the fact that the
silly situation like the one in Kamabara can happen to anybody. In Kamabara, the
husband decides to kill himself out of the fight he had with his wife. Yet he is
not able to follow through all the way and decides to postpone his death. It may
not be in the exactly same situation, where you might be faced to commit a
suicide but it could be in a less dramatic manner. For example, a friend of mine
at a flute jury test was asked the question, “what do you play?” up on the
stage. The jury obviously wanted to know what piece she was playing with her
flute, but