Kanadehon Chushingura

"The Treasury of Loyal Retainers"

Analysis of Key Characters

To avoid accusations of social criticism, authors and playwrights in the Edo period would almost always adopt another literary 'world', or sekai, when writing about events that had certain political and/or historical overtones. More often than not, these sekai were not so much imaginary as they were historical in nature, removed in time far enough from the present so as bestow a kind of political neutrality, and vague, or archetypal, enough in content so as to allow the accurate depiction of another story. In the case of Ch?shingura, Takeda Izumo, Namiki S?suke and Miyoshi Sh?raku utilized the sekai of the Taiheiki ("Chronicle of the Great Peace"), a semi-historical work that details the bloody struggles that took place during the period of the Northern and Southern Courts in the middle of the 14th century. More specifically, they borrowed the story of Enya Hangan and K? no Moronao. (For an English translation of this section of the Teiheiki, see Hiroaki Sat?'s Legends of the Samurai, pp. 188-203.)

The similarities between the story of Enya and Moronao and the events that took place between 1701 and 1703 surrounding Asano and Kira are few and far in between. Aside from the correspondence between the provincial status of both Enya and Asano, there are really only two aspects of the Taiheiki story that lent themselves to an adaptation of the Ak? incident: like Kira, Moronao was indirectly responsible for the death of Enya; and like Kira, Moronao was generally held to be an evil, conniving man, due to his less than angelic portrayal in the Taiheiki. It seems that these similarities were more than enough for authors who chose to give fictional shape to the actions of the 47 r?nin: Ch?shingura was not the first, nor was it the last, to make use of the Enya-Moronao sekai. (For one such antecedent, see Jacqueline Mueller's translation and discussion of Chikamatsu's puppet play Goban taiheiki, "A Chronicle of Great Peace Played Out on a Chessboard," in the Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, June 1986.)

One of the more interesting facets of Kanadehon Ch?shingura stems from this presentation of contemporary events in the form of a period piece. Although the plot and sequence of events of the Enya-Moronao story are almost entirely ignored, in order to successfully write a believable adaptation, certain aspects of the story had to necessarily be inserted within the larger Ak? incident narrative. One clear example of this is the addition (or preservation, depending on one's point of view) of Moronao's lust for Enya's wife. The Taiheiki goes into great detail about the beauty of Enya's wife and the lengths to which Moronao goes in order to seduce her. When his love is spurned, Moronao's jealousy drives him to smear his rival's name with political slander, a state of affairs that leads to Enya's immediate flight from the capital and, ultimately, to his tragic death. The intertextual nature of Kanadehon Ch?shingura does not end with such literary associations with the Taiheiki: Takeda, Namiki and Miyoshi also owe a great debt to the earlier versions of the Ak? incident that appeared between 1710 and 1748. (Some commonly cited examples include, Goban taiheiki (1710), written by Chikamatsu, Oni kage musashi abumi (1713), written by Ki no Kaion, and Ch?shin kogane tanzaku (1732), written by Namiki, Ogawa and Anda. See Appendix for brief summaries of relevant sections.) In many ways, Ch?shingura represents the culmination of a process of textual distillation in which the most interesting and successful parts of older adaptations were re-used and recycled alongside new ideas and conceptions. The three authors accomplished their job so well that Kanadehon Ch?shingura was then, and still is, the most well known version of the Ak? incident. Indeed, the name 'ch?shingura' has come to act as a moniker for all of the events surrounding the forty seven r?nin between march of 1701 and march of 1703.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that the individual characters of Ch?shingura are variegated and, much like the plot and storyline, have been drawn from several sources, historical, contemporary and literary. This etiological complexity in turn produces rich thematic complexities as authors and readers alike connect narrative lines back and forth through history. The list below attempts to briefly outline some of the etiological and thematic issues that surround the major characters of the play.


Enya Hangan
Ko no Moronao
Oboshi Yuranosuke
Kakogawa Honzo
Hayano Kanpei

APPENDIXKanadehon Chûshingura Antecedents with Relevant Plot Summaries