“Off, off, you lendings! Come. Unbutton here”: The divestment of authority and the cultivation of hope in Makoto Sato’s reincarnation of Lear with Mügen Nōh elements

Michael INGHAM, Kaoru NAKAO

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsConference Paper (other)Other Conference Paperpeer-review


Helen Mirren once lamented the fact that there is no equivalent Lear or Hamlet role for Western actresses. When the 82 year old Misako Watanabe played Lear in a production for experimental Japanese director Makoto Sato in his fundamental 2013 makeover of an earlier Lear production - migrating Lear from its tragic European context to a more redemptive East Asian theatrical ethos - she divested the King not only of his regal trappings, and his divine authority but also of the role’s intrinsic maleness. In Sato’s stage work everything is stripped back to concepts of common humanity and the human condition. Our paper will argue that it is precisely through the use of Mügen Nōh conventions, skilfully admixed with Shakespeare’s text, that a radically different perspective on the assumed bleakness and bitterness of his 1606 tragedy emerges.
As Stephen Greenblatt commented in his essay ‘Shakespeare and the Ethics of Authority’, those in power may be “cloaked in the mantle of moral authority”, but their stage actions, shown as unethical and/or depraved, speak for themselves. He points out that at the close of the play none of the surviving characters wish for “the weight” of such authority to be imposed on them; the only imperative left to them is to “speak what we feel”. From this a faint sense of hope can be glimpsed, which Sato’s production highlights in its ritualistic enactment of disrobing, of disencumbering the self from this mantle of a moral authority that is tarnished by unethical application.
Our paper will also make a strong case for the validity of the experimental Nōh elements in Sato’s production contra more rigorous purist discourses on traditional Japanese theatre forms. The theory of cultural mobility advanced by Greenblatt et al will also be invoked as a response to arguments against transcultural, mixed-mode theatre, and to propose Sato as one of its foremost proponents. His 2013-15 Lear production, reconstructed on the shell of a flawed earlier model, is illustrative of the insights into Shakespeare’s world and the humanity of his depictions of us “poor bare forked animals” that experimental productions utilising traditional theatre forms can offer us. It serves to highlight economically and imaginatively the moral lessons in Shakespeare’s play for those who wield and abuse power in today’s increasingly polarised political world.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018
EventIFTR World Congress 2018: Theatre and Migration - Theatre, Nation and Identity: Between Migration and Stasis - University of Arts, Belgrade, Serbia
Duration: 9 Jul 201813 Jul 2018


ConferenceIFTR World Congress 2018
Abbreviated titleIFTR2018
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of '“Off, off, you lendings! Come. Unbutton here”: The divestment of authority and the cultivation of hope in Makoto Sato’s reincarnation of Lear with Mügen Nōh elements'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this