Organized Panel Session
In the Nō play Rōdaiko (Prison Drum, ~1466), a woman is detained at a proprietor’s home. Her crime: she refuses to reveal the whereabouts of her husband who has fled after being arrested for murder. As her jailer presses her for information, she becomes crazed with emotion and dances with longing for her husband. So moving are her pleas that the jailer relents and grants the couple clemency.
This presentation argues that Rōdaiko contests the custom of enza (vicarious punishment), a legal principle that allowed for the capture of family members when the accused had fled. Whereas her arrest follows an instrumentalist view of law (that the law should hold the guilty accountable), she puts forth a moral vision of justice, in which law is enforced through a shared understanding of “reasonable” practices. In particular, the wife poetically transforms the instrument of her imprisonment (the bamboo “jail” cage) into a keepsake of her husband, effectively countering the legal logic of co-responsibility with the affective logic of an irrevocable spousal bond. Overall, this paper suggests that such Nō plays are organic artifacts of medieval legal culture, not simply reflecting legal codes but contesting and reimagining them.