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From the Abridgments of the Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties to the Modern Revivals of Mu-tan-t'ing: Some Issues Regarding the Reconstruction of Kunqu
A play is written for performance. An elegant closet play by a man of letters is fitting for reading, yet it might not be equally fitting for performance on stage. Ever since its completion, Hsien-tzu T’ang’s masterpiece Mu-tan-t’ing, or The Peony Pavilion, had been heatedly disputed because of its metrics; as a result, many adaptations and abridged versions were created. Scholars also debated over the tunes of the play. In the Ming and Ch’ing dynasties, a lot of scholars and performers, based on their own aesthetic demands, the artistic taste and the audience awareness to downsize and refine the play so that it could be suitably presented on stage and meanwhile broadcasted rapidly. Up to the present day, The Peony Pavilion has been a huge hit with the worldwide research and performance owing to the interaction between the Chinese and the Western cultures. However, there are some problems emerged heterogeneously among the various editions of the performances, such as cultural differences, wrong casting of role categories, the discrepancies of the stage aesthetics, and so on. With the different time and space, what should be the priority for reconstructing the play? Shall we follow the traditional model or taken into account the context of the contemporary performance? The author will discuss these issues in this paper. The abridged editions in Ming and Ch’ing Dynasties will be explored first to find out the process of the play-reconstruction, and then the characteristics of “zhezixi” (折子戲) will be clarified and analyzed. Finally, the author will conclude the experiences which preceding people interpreted the literary script into the art of the stage and compare them with various modern stage revivals to assess the gains and losses, aiming to determine the most promising keys for present-day reconstruction of Kunqu.
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