Poetic Drama of the Song Dynasty
Poetic drama of the Song Dynasty refers to a combination of comic shows, song and dance, and variety shows. It is an early form of traditional Chinese drama based on Canjunxi (comic dialogical plays of the Tang Dynasty) and drawing elements from song and dance plus other forms of folk art. It is mainly jocular and satirical. Its performance is divided into two sections. The first is a warmingup show whereas the second section is the “real thing.” Sometimes, skits will be added to a regular show to enhance the fun. Each poetic drama has four or five characters, with one of them being the main singer who narrates events by singing major arias while the others do the spoken parts, throw in impromptu remarks for comic relief, or simply sing and dance. Dramatic performances were very popular in the Northern Song Period, especially in Kaifeng and Luoyang. Throughout the Northern and Southern Song dynasties, poetic drama kept on growing and reached a new height, further dividing roles, varying postures and making plots more intricate. Poetic drama of the Song Dynasty predated that of the Yuan Dynasty. Its artistic forms and techniques directly influenced later forms of drama.
In the poetic drama of the Song Dynasty, moni is the main male role while four or five characters perform the whole play together. They begin by acting out a familiar situation adapted from daily life (yanduan), a warming-up section of the performance. Then they put on the poetic drama itself. Of the entire cast of characters, moni is always in the limelight. Yinxi, for his part, guides the show by giving directions or dropping a hint where necessary. Fujing is supposed to act like a clown, whereas fumo makes comical remarks. Sometimes, there may appear a government official to suit the need of plot development. (Naideweng: Wonders of the City of Lin’an)
As Huang Tingjian puts it, “Writing poetry is like writing drama. You start out by making overall arrangement, while toward the end, you have to sound conclusive by making some offbeat remarks for fun.” This is perhaps because he didn’t like Qin Guan’s works for their lack of purpose after he read them. (Wang Zhifang: My Commentaries on Poetic Creation)