The refinement of the intense, other-worldly Noh drama in medieval Japan
was paralleled by the development of light and humorous dramatic skits
known as Kyôgen. Where Noh is solemn and symbolic, Kyôgen
is irreverent and slapstick; where Noh treats the profound passions of
human existence, Kyôgen concerns the amusing situations of daily
life. The language of Noh is poetic and exalted, while that of Kyôgen
is prosaic and earthy; the costumes of Noh are rich and gorgeous, while
those of Kyôgen are the plain dull garments of everyday life worn
in fifteenth century Japan. The character for the word Noh means talent
or ability, while those for the word Kyôgen mean wild talk, or
crazy speaking. Each of these dramatic forms has special qualities that
are emphasized by its contrast with the other.
Kyôgen is acted on the Noh stage between performances of Noh plays.
Sometimes even within a Noh play, there is a Kyôgen interlude between
two "acts," for comic relief. But while the actors in Kyôgen,
who are trained differently than those in Noh, may be as skilled, their
intention is not to move us to tears, but to make us laugh. Often the
story is about a humble person making a fool out of someone in authority.
The situations are often familiar to us, either from our own lives or
from television sitcoms: servants trying to outwit their masters, or
a younger son trying to take advantage of an autocratic father in his