Hamlet Meets Chushingura: Traditions of the Revenge Tragedy

This lesson sensitizes students to the similarities and differences between cultures by comparing Shakespearean and Bunraku/Kabuki dramas. The focus of this comparison is the complex nature of revenge explored in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and Chushingura, or the Treasury of the Loyal Retainers. Students will learn about the Elizabethan revenge ethic as reflected in Hamlet and about the Tokugawa revenge ethic as reflected in the Japanese Bunraku/Kabuki play Chushingura or the Treasury of the Loyal Retainers. What similarities and differences are present in Hamlet's situation as compared to the situations of the forty-seven ronin? What difficulties do we face in making such a comparison between the revenge ethic in two different cultures? How do cultural beliefs and expectations shape an audience's response to a play? Note: This lesson may be taught either as a stand-alone lesson or as a sequel to the complementary EDSITEment lesson, Hamlet and the Elizabethan Revenge Ethic in Text and Film.

Guiding Questions

To what extent does a desire for justice motivate the acts of revenge depicted in these plays?

What are the consequences of violent acts of revenge depicted in these plays?

Learning Objectives

Describe the traditional theatres of Japan, including Bunraku and Kabuki

Draw parallels between Kabuki and Elizabethan theatre as public theatres rising from the middle class

Recognize the cultural implications and limitations of theatrical conventions

Explore the nature and implications of honor, loyalty, and revenge in these cultures as presented in texts, plays, film, and video.

Analyze and compare the playwrights' uses of characters' language and actions as motivating forces for revenge

Compare interpretations of modern film and video with the texts and events on which they are based