China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - The Actor’s Art and Jester Meng

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Johnson, Mezzanine Level

Chinese theater in the early Ming was also known as the ‘actor’s art’ following what was considered to be the first instance of skillful impersonation: that of the witty Zhou dynasty Jester Meng described in Sima Qian’s Biographies of Jesters. Sima Qian’s description of the jester became popular because of his remonstrative acumen and witty comments, but also because of the skills he demonstrated in the imitation of the manner and demeanor of the deceased prime minister Sunshu Ao. It is not until the Ming, once the idea of a theater had taken root, that Jester Meng was used in reference to theater. This paper will discuss the importance of this biography in dramatic history. It will examine how Jester Meng was used by drama historians to describe two of the foundational concepts of theater: one is the definition of theater as the actor’s art, and the other is the essential satirical (or comic) nature at the genesis of this art. It will further analyze how the perception of the performance in the story of Jester Meng shifted the emphasis from language to performance.

Regina Llamas

Stanford University, California

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