Organized Panel Session
The story of the lovers Osan and Mohei first came to the public in a grisly performance: their crucifixion, in 1683, for the crime of adultery. From that sordid end, the story grew through oral ballads and print fiction, its embellishments woven around the twin nodes of sexual transgression and its punishment. Yet when Chikamatsu Monzaemon staged the doomed lovers’ tale for the puppet theater thirty-two years after their execution, he did something extraordinary: he let the lovers live, defying historical fact, three decades of narrative convention, and the would-be executioners on his stage. This paper takes the startling end of the play The Almanac Maker and the Old Calendar (Daikyōji mukashi goyomi, 1715) as an opening to consider the powers Chikamatsu claims for the puppet theater through his reworking of the Osan-Mohei story. Drawing upon the ritual framework of a performance to console the dead, the play transforms the theater into a site where the undoing of narrative conventions is but one ingredient in a grand inversion of values. As it fosters sympathy for—and ultimately redeems—the two lovers, the play invites audiences to view the norms and pieties of the world beyond the theater’s walls with newly transgressive eyes. Locating the play at the intersection of execution rituals, pacification rites, oral and print narratives, popular discourses of feminine “beastliness,” and commercial entertainment, I explore the ways the early modern puppet theater could seek to remake the values of the world through the affective power of performance.