The Dynamics of Gender and Power in Zeami’s Reflections on Performance


Hanna McGaughey

PhD defended at: 

The University of Trier


This dissertation details how Zeami (ca. 1363 - ca.1443) understood his adoption of the heavenly woman dance within the historical conditions of the Muromachi period. He adopted the dance based on performances by the Ōmi troupe player Inuō in order to expand his own troupe’s repertoire to include a divinely powerful, feminine character. In the first chapter, I show how Zeami, informed by his success as a sexualized child in the service of the political elite (chigo), understood the relationship between performer and audience in gendered terms. In his treatises, he describes how a player must create a complementary relationship between patron and performer (feminine/masculine or yin/yang) that escalates to an ecstasy of successful communication between the two poles, resembling sexual union. Next, I look at how Zeami perceived Inuō’s relationships with patrons, the daimyo Sasaki Dōyo in chapter two and shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu in chapter three. Inuō was influenced by Dōyo’s masculine penchant for powerful, awe-inspiring art, but Zeami also recognized that Inuō was able to complement Dōyo’s masculinity with feminine elegance (kakari and yūgen). In his relationship with Yoshimitsu, Inuō used the performance of subversion, both in his public persona and in the aesthetic of his performances, to maintain a rebellious reputation appropriate within the climate of conflict among the martial elite. His play “Aoi no ue” draws on the aristocratic literary tradition of the Genji monogatari, giving Yoshimitsu the role of Prince Genji and confronting him with the consequences of betrayal in the form of a demonic, because jilted, Lady Rokujō. This performance challenged Zeami’s early notion that the extreme masculinity of demons on the one hand and elegant femininity as exemplified by the aristocracy on the other must be kept separate in character creation. In the fourth chapter, I show how Zeami similarly combined dominance (masculinity) and submission (femininity) in the corporal capacity of a single player when he adopted the heavenly woman dance. The heavenly woman dance thus complemented not only the masculinity of his male patrons with femininity but also the political power of his patrons with another dominant power, which plays featuring the heavenly woman dance label divine rather than masculine.