ISSN : (Online)
DOI : http://dx.doi.org/10.14354/yjk.2005.23.69
Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well and the Japanese Noh
I have found my first model?and in literature, if we would not be parvenus,we must have a model?in the ‘Noh’ stage of aristocratic Japan.
From this statement, we can see how significant the Noh-form was to Yeats in hisdevelopment as a playwright. When Yeats was first introduced to Noh, heimmediately perceived affinities with Irish legends and beliefs. The Noh was notsomething completely new or alien to Yeats. It was the discovery of an ideal, anideal form for him to express his perennial themes of the tension between thephysical and spiritual worlds.
Yeats’s Noh-inspired plays are often categorized as “dance plays” and we cansee that “dance” was an important symbol which Yeats developed through hisexperience with Noh. Yeats wrote in his “Introduction” to Certain Noble Plays ofJapan that it was a Japanese dancer, Ito Michio, who inspired him to write his newplay, At the Hawk’s Well (1916). In Noh, the dance which is usually danced by asupernatural figure, is placed at the centre. Here, the supernatural dominates the stage and the action develops toward a moment of enlightenment. Yeats preciselypoints out this fact and writes that in his new play, instead of “the players workingthemselves into a violence of passion...the music, beauty of form and voice allcome to climax in pantomimic dance.” However, since Yeats intended Cuchulain asthe central figure of At the Hawk’s Well, the theatrical effect of the dance had todiffer from that of Noh.
Another characteristic of this play is that it dramatizes the ‘transformation’ of theGuardian of the Well, the role which Ito Michio played, through spirit possession.This change in personality is conveyed by means of a change in costume(she throwsoff her cloak to reveal a dress suggesting a hawk). This is a method resembling‘monogi(物着),’ one of the most important dramatic conventions of Noh. Yeatsexplores this device again, in The Only Jealousy of Emer(1919), another dance playmodeled on Noh, but this time using different masks to show the change inpersonality. Yeats’s interest in this motif of spirit possession eventually led him towrite The Words Upon the Window-Pane(1930), a play where he dramatizes aseanc?. Here, the dramatic tension is concentrated mainly on a supernaturalmanifestation through the ‘protagonist’ who is a professional spiritual medium.
In this paper, I have discussed Yeats’s relationship with Noh through a detailedanalysis of At the Hawk’s Well. In this play, we can see many aspects of Noh. Thesimplified stage, the musicians, the mask, the dance, the use of a square blue clothto represent a well; these are characteristics reminiscent of Noh. However, we mustnote that this play was not merely an imitation of Noh but a completely new formof creative writing. Richard Taylor indicates the influence of Yoro, a felicitousWaki-noh, or God Play on this play. A comparison of these two plays reveal thatYeats had no intention of following the Noh paradigms faithfully. However, theinspiration he gained from Noh opened a wide range of dramatic experimentsenabling him to write a sequence of dance plays. In later plays such as The WordsUpon the Window-Pane and Purgatory, Yeats succeeded in achieving a dramaticeffect closer to that of Noh.