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Humorous Othello: Tarokaja Masuda's New Othello (1907) and the Value of Comedy



Ever since Shakespeare was introduced to Japan in the late nineteenth century, the Bard has been regarded as an icon of the modernized West, a teacher of wisdom, an authoritative source of knowledge, and a master to whom utmost respect was due. Tragedies, a genre invoking solemnity and thought to befit a serious playwright, dominated the scenes of early Shakespeare reception. Shakespearean transadaptations in Japan often omitted bawdy language in conformance with the Bard's solemn stature, so that the ennobled Shakespearean language could remain "proper." During such a period, a unique comedy writer, Tarokaja Masuda (1875-1953), went against the grain by making Othello humorous, accessible, satirical, and full of slapstick. This paper brings attention to Masuda's forgotten New Othello (1907), a comic spin-off derived from one of the most renowned box-office hits of Shakespeare in early twentieth-century Japan-a localized Othello (1903) adapted by Suiin Emi (1869-1934) and produced by Otojiro Kawakami (1864-1911). This paper argues for New Othello's contribution to the development of comedy as a worthy genre as well as its revision of creative approaches to Shakespeare in Japan. New Othello not only embodies the malleability of generic perception, but also familiarizes and popularizes Shakespeare for a wider, entertainment-seeking audience. Last but not least, New Othello manifests the social capacity of comedies by demonstrating the transformative power of trust and love. New Othello further grants a happy ending to a cross-cultural and cross-class marriage in stark contrast to Shakespeare's Othello, wherein inter-racial and cross-class relationships could not last. The successful productions of this neglected play in Taiwan (1909) and in Tokyo (2018) bore witness to New Othello's theatrical cogency and sustained legacy, currently unexplored by the academic community.

Parallel abstracts



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