Madame de Sade
By Yukio Mishima
Over the course of the season, our assistant directors and student dramaturgs will be compiling dramaturgical resources relating to each production as it develops. Below are some links to websites which relate to the history of the play, the biography of the playwright, and sites that contextualize and, we hope, shed light on the directorial approach to the dramatic material.
We hope you find these resources of interest.
Yukio Mishima (14 January 1925 - 25 November 1970
“No matter how you might look at it . . . No matter how deranged an act it may seem, I would like you to understand that to us it derives from our sense of yukoku—patriotism.” – Yukio Mishima to reporters regarding the November 25 “Mishima Incident.”
Yukio Mishima (January 14, 1925–November 25, 1970) was one of the most notable and provocative Japanese writers of the 20th century. He was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize in Literature, and won the Yomiuri Prize twice: in 1956 for the novel, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion and in 1961 for the play Tenth-Day Chrysanthemums.
Even after death, Mishima has been praised for his “dazzling performances” and “finical execution of ideas.” Mishima’s work and legacy has been compared to that of famed Japanese writer, Junichiro Tanizaki.
Japanese literature scholar Edward Seidensticker once said in a 1965 New York Times Review, “Tanizaki was probably the most revered of Japanese literary elders, and Mishima is the young writer of whom it seems most likely the same thing will one day be said.”
Mishima came of age in a radically changing post-war Japan, as the country’s cultural landscape was rapidly being westernized; Japanese identity was in flux. Mishima resented this change, taking extreme offense at Emperor Hirohito’s renunciation of his divine power in the face of pressure from Allied leaders. According to his editor, Harold Strauss, Mishima was “torn apart by the Japanese transition to modernism.”
His writing reflected these nationalistic concerns, as well as human sexuality and death. He often blended classical Japanese aesthetics (such as elements of Kabuki theater with fundamentals of contemporary theater.
His other notable works include The Sound of Waves (1954), The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea (1963) and The Sea of Fertility tetralogy (published in serialized format from 1969-1971). He was also an accomplished bodybuilder and actor, and starred in the 1960 Yasuzo Masumura film. Afraid to Die.
He was born Kimitake Hiraota in Yotsuya, Tokyo to an upper class family. From an early age, Mishima was raised mainly by women, and expressed great interest in reading and writing.
His father frowned upon his writing, and worried that his son was too feminine. His teachers in primary school, however, admired his writing, giving him the pen name “Yukio Mishima” to prevent his classmates from teasing him.
Eventually, Mishima’s strong sense of patriotism and right-wing beliefs led him to establish the Tatenokai a militaristic collective of right-wing, nationalist students devoted to the Emperor. On November 25, 1970, he led the Tatenokai to Japanese Self-Defense Forces headquarters at Ichigaya and took the commanding officer there hostage. Mishima then walked out onto a balcony and delivered a speech with the intention of inciting a coup which would in turn re-establish the Empire of Japan and restore divine power to Emperor Hirohito.
He then returned to the office and committed seppuku, suicide by self-disembowelment and decapitation. Mishima’s second-in-command failed to properly decapitate him on the first few tries, and eventually a separate Tatenokai member was brought in to end Mishima’s suffering.
Read an assortment of New York Times articles about and by Yukio Mishima here.
Watch Mishima speak about the samurai, death, and devotion. This clip also contains footage from Mishima’s ill-fated coup.
Read a review of Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters here.
Donald Keene (born June 18, 1922) is a renowned scholar of Japanese literature. The New York Times Book Review described him as, “the century's leading expert on Japanese literature, as well as its most indefatigable translator.”
He was University Professor Emeritus of Japanese literature at Columbia University for over fifty years. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia in 1942, after which he joined the US Navy. In the Navy, he learned Japanese and served as an intelligence officer in the Pacific Theater of World War II.
Keene went on to publish over 70 books on Japanese literature and culture, including Dawn to the West, a comprehensive, four volume critique of Japanese literature. In 2011, he moved to Japan and attained Japanese citizenship, renouncing his US citizenship in the process.
Read more about Donald Keene here.
The Marquis de Sade
Donatien Aphonse François de Sade (June 2, 1740- December 2, 1814) was a French aristocrat, author, and philosopher who was infamous for his explicit sexual works. Perhaps his most notable work was the novella Justine (see subheading below).
Born into a wealthy family of noble descent, he was frequently in and out of jail throughout his adult life. He spent roughly 32 years of his life incarcerated as a result of his scandalous writings and wild sexual lifestyle (which frequently involved bondage and torture of prostitutes and servants).
He died in an asylum at age 74 after Napoleon issued an arrest warrant for the (at the time) anonymous author of Justine and its sequel, Juliette.
His writing alternated between highly philosophical and graphically sexual/violent (see links below for full versions of Justine and Juliette). He was a scholar of the Enlightenment, and identified strongly with Rousseau’s theory of the Social Contract (see link below), which argued that humans were not inherently immoral and only became immoral when forced into situations of inequality.
Sade thus argued that man should be granted ultimate freedom, in every sense of the word. This free thinking would result in a great irony of the Marquis’ life; he was persecuted for thinking freely during the pinnacle of the Enlightenment.
Follow a timeline of de Sade’s life here.
Read an excerpt from Neil Schaeffer’s biography of de Sade.
Read a more in depth summary of de Sade’s life, and watch a 45 minute documentary on de Sade from the Biography Channel.
The Enlightenment was a cultural movement beginning in late 17th century Europe that brought about an emphasis on scientific methods of reasoning versus the ancient traditions of thought held throughout most of Europe. Enlightenment philosophers maintained that the largely illiterate, poor public was being kept under a yoke of servitude by the small, privileged elite.
Specifically, this included the various governments and kings of Europe, as well as the Catholic Church. The “great unthinking masses” were taught not to question the absolute authority of their superiors.
Scholars of the Enlightenment sought not to break this cycle through violence and revolution, but rather through changing modes of thinking. Their motto was “Sapere aude,” or, “Have courage to use your own reason.” By liberating one’s mind and thinking freely, one could break the chains cast upon them by the ruling class and live a life of rational freedom.
The French Revolution
Beginning in 1789, the French Revolution exploded out of a number of factors including economic strain resulting from involvement in the American Revolution. After a period of societal upheaval and extreme violence, a number of social and political changes would result.
The common people of the “Third Estate” inherited a large number of rights. Meanwhile, the French monarchy was abolished and a republic was established in its place. This republic was marred by mass killings and political turmoil. In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte staged a coup, essentially ending the French Revolution.
Read the Declaration of the Rights of Man, an important document which emerged out of the Revolution.
Also check out the Declaration of the Rights of Women, a document released in addendum to the above document.
Justine and Juliette
Justine and Juliette are fictional sisters and the eponymous protagonists of two separate novels written by the Marquis de Sade during his incarceration in the Bastille. The books have been interpreted by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer as a glorification of the principles of the Enlightenment.
While Justine attempts to live a pious, Catholic life, Juliette intentionally leads a sexually wild, debauched lifestyle. Justine is repeatedly raped and ridiculed by groups of men throughout her journey, and her Catholic morals and faith in God are repeatedly torn to shreds.
Through it all, Justine’s body magically regenerates, keeping its beautiful form until she is struck by lightning and killed in the end. Juliette, on the other hand, engages in orgies similar to those endured by Justine. She derives great pleasure from these orgies, and becomes wealthy as a result. The possibility of the character of Justine being inspired by the Marquise de Sade is mentioned in Madame de Sade.
Both books are in the public domain, and the full texts are available online (in French) here:
This link leads to a collection of illustrations from a 1789 printing of Juliette (WARNING: graphic content).
An acronym for “Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Massochism,” BDSM is a term used to describe a variety of sexual customs that play with the power dynamics of sex. Often times, BDSM practices involve restraint (i.e. chains, gagging, blindfolding, etc.), domination (whips, electrical stimulation, etc.), and submission.
Informed consent is very important in BDSM sex, and a mutual understanding of the lengths to which partners are willing to go and safe-words are established beforehand. Often times, media (such as the popular novel, Fifty Shades of Grey) fails to portray the “informed consent” nature of BDSM sex, which has led to a misunderstanding of BDSM among the general public.
In turn, members of the BDSM community resent the media’s demonization of BDSM sex practices. Interestingly, the term “Sadism” derives from the name of the Marquis de Sade.