Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Historical Context - The Peony Pavilion

Moses Chan and Eddie Kwan perform The Peony Pavilion.

The Peony Pavilion (牡丹亭) is a famous Chinese opera play. It is part of the Four Dreams collection by playwright Tang Xianzu (湯顯祖).

The story takes place during the late Song Dynasty. Du Liniang (杜麗娘) is the daughter of a government official. One day, she falls asleep in the garden. In her dreams, she meets a scholar named Liu Mengmei (柳夢梅) and becomes madly in love with him. When she awakens, she is so consumed by love-sickness that she eventually falls ill and dies. Before she dies, she requests to be buried in the garden and also hides a self-portrait there.

Three years later, the scholar Liu stops for a rest in the garden while on his way to write the imperial exam. There, he discovers the portrait of Du. The couple reunite in his dreams and Du asks him to dig up her coffin. To his surprise, she is brought back to life when he opens the coffin. The joyous couple get married and then travel to the capital city where Liu writes the imperial exam.

Just at this time, war breaks out. Worried about her father, Du sends Liu to look for him. When Liu reaches his father-in-law, he tells him about Du's resurrection, but his father-in-law doesn't believe him. Instead, Liu is jailed for robbing Du's grave.

In the end, Liu is saved when it was announced that he was the top scholar of the imperial exam. The Emperor gave his blessings to the couple for a happy ending.

The Peony Pavilion is the favourite play of Consort Yu (Sheren Tang) and Consort Dowager Shun in Beauty at War. The play exemplifies the pursuit of true love against all barriers, even the separation of life and death. The free romance between the main characters is something that the concubines in the palace can only dream about.

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