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Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725) has been called Japan’s Shakespeare. Translator Donald Keene argues, however, that the genius of Chikamatsu is not that he was a “second Shakespeare,” but that his plays are “the first mature tragedies (written) about the common man.”

Chikamatsu wrote bunraku, Japan’s traditional puppet plays. His works portray hardship and tragedy in the lives of ordinary people; themes include the conflict between giri (social obligation) and ninjō (human nature). Chikamatsu depicts this quandary as unrequited love in three of the plays. One, “The Uprooted Pine” (1718), ends happily. Two, “The Love Suicides at Sonezaki” (1703) and “The Love Suicides at Amijima” (1720), have titles with built-in spoilers.

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