Battles, Betrayals, and Brotherhood: Early Chinese Plays on the Three Kingdoms.

Author:Wille, Alexander C.
Position:Book review

Battles, Betrayals, and Brotherhood: Early Chinese Plays on the Three Kingdoms. Edited and translated, with an introduction by Wilt L. Idema and Stephen H. West. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2012. Pp. xxx + 469. $78 (cloth), $28 (paper), $23.95 (eBook).

It is sometimes easy to forget that the early sixteenth-century's 120-chapter Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Sanguo yanyi), feted as one of the so-called "Four Masterworks of the Ming Novel," is neither the beginning nor the end of Three Kingdoms narrative. Rather, it is but one configuration of a body of material that has been evolving for millennia and no doubt will continue to do so. Happily, Wilt L. Idema and Stephen H. West's new Battles, Betrayals, and Brotherhood: Early Chinese Plays on the Three Kingdoms takes early theatrical treatments of episodes from the Three Kingdoms cycle of historical narratives and renders them into lively, exacting, and idiomatic English. Battles, Betrayals, and Brotherhood is a welcome reunion of Idema and West, who previously collaborated on Monks, Bandits, Lovers, and Immortals: Eleven Early Chinese Plays (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2010.)

An exciting contribution-one that should be a source of great interest and pleasure to students, teachers, and scholars working in the fields of Chinese history and literature this anthology collects Yuan and Ming dynasty zaju (musical dramas in four acts) explorations of Three Kingdoms narrative produced in the centuries leading up to the 120-chapter novel. This new anthology illuminates not only the evolution of the Three Kingdoms saga, but also of Chinese theatre during an important stage in its own historical development.

This volume will likely be of use to anyone with an interest in premodern Chinese literature, but it is sure to be of particular value to graduate students or advanced undergraduates within the field. Many of these selections will be unfamiliar even to those who have spent some time with Chinese literature, but Idema and West ably locate these pieces within their pertinent historical, literary, and narrative contexts. As a result, the reader is left with a better understanding of these particular works as well as a clearer overall impression of the concerns and preoccupations of one corner of Chinese literature at this time.

The anthology starts with a general introduction that serves as well-researched and thorough accounting of Three Kingdoms textual history. Idema...

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