ancient history

Project Description:

-how does the villain, mao yan-shou, resemble other villains you have encountered in literature, film, or drama? does he remind you of anyone? think about other villains: shakespeare's iago, dickens' bill sykes, tolkein's sauron, j.k. rowling's voldemort, darth vader from star wars, the joker from batman--any others that come to mind for you! if a culture's heroes reveal a culture's ideal virtues (as we discussed in week 3) then a culture's villains reveal the vices and failings the culture fears most: how does mao yan-shou reveal what yuan dynasty china feared most?

-what role does the suicide of wang zhaojun play in the drama? several traditional chinese heroines kill themselves out of loyalty to the men they love; zhaojun seems like part of this tradition. can you think of other examples of stories with tragic, yet somewhat heroic or idealized or romantic, suicide as part of them? how is the suicide treated similarly and differently in the autumn in the palace of the han from the way it is treated in the other stories you might think of?

-what does 'love' mean to the emperor? does it mean the same thing to wang zhaojun? why or why not?

-the autumn of the palace of the han was written in the late 1200s, under the yuan dynasty, which was ruled by the mongol khans. to what extent is the autumn in the palace of the han a propaganda piece? does it seem to be favoring the han or the mongols (or tartars)? why?

-in yuan dynasty plays, typically, only one character gets to sing. in this play that character is the emperor. why do you suppose only one character sings--and why is that character in this play the emperor? what purpose does the singing serve in the drama? how do the emperor's different melodies express different ideas, themes, or concepts? (for example, you could compare and contrast two of his singing parts, such as 'she paints her brows' vs. 'i thought you generals'.)

-what are some of the ways the play presents the difference between tartar and han cultures? thinking especially about the audio recording, what sort of language, performance, music, sound effects, and other techniques are used to illustrate the differences?

-during the cultural revolution in china, the communist ruling party in china worked to get rid of literature that reflected aristocratic values. many works were destroyed and others were not allowed to be performed. but this and other yuan dynasty plays were embraced, when most historical literature wasn't, because the communist party in china regarded this play to be an example of "people's art"--reflective of a kind of art accessible to the general population, and not confined to the rich or the social elites. yuan dynasty plays certainly did have a startlingly broad audience: everyone from poor, illiterate laborers to aristocratic scholars attended these plays. imagine yourself as a poor, illiterate laborer in the late 1200s in china. you have a little extra money this week, so as a special treat, you're going to see the new play: the autumn in the palace of the han. what would you have thought of this play?
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