The Treasury of Loyal Retainers: Act Four
(Kanadehon Chushingura: Yon-damme)
signed Shun'ei ga, with publisher's seal Yamaka (Iseya Magobei), censor's seal Kiwame (approved) date seal U-shi (year of the hare , 4th month), and small square collector's seal 'S' in lower right corner, ca. 1807
oban tate-e 14 3/8 by 9 7/8 in., 36.6 by 25.2 cm
This print imagines a scene is from extremely popular kabuki drama, The Treasury of Loyal Retainers (Kanadehon Chushingura), originally written for the puppet theater by Takeda Izumo, Miyoshi Shoraku, and Namiki Senryu in 1748, and adapted for kabuki in Osaka that same year. It was based on actual events which occurred in 1702, known as the Ako incident, involving the unjust forced seppuku (ritual suicide) of Lord Asano, the daimyo of Ako, and the unfaltering loyalty of 47 of his retainers, made ronin (masterless samurai), who successfully conspired to eventually avenge his death almost two years after its occurrence, in direct defiance of the shogunate. Once they succeeded in their vendetta, they were arrested and all sentenced to commit seppuku as well for disobeying the will of the shogun. The punishment was controversial because according to bushido, the way of the warrior, they had fulfilled their essential obligation to their master. In the dramatic format, the writers set the tale in the mid-14th century and changed the names of all of the people involved in order to thinly veil the source material from the Tokugawa government who were not portrayed favorably.
The scene portrayed in this print, from Act IV, Enya yakata no ba (Enya Hangan's Seppuku), we see a view of the members of the household of Lord Enya (the role based on Lord Asano) who have attempted to alleviate the tension of waiting for Enya's sentencing by decorating with fresh cherry blossom branches. Lord Enya is seated at left, his youthful son, Rikiya, is at his side, and his wife, Kaoyo, stands to the right. The older man in the foreground is Honzo, who arrives bearing the grim news of Enya's punishment of seppuku.
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July 10, 2020
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