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Quaint, ExquisiteVictorian Aesthetics and the Idea of Japan$
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Grace E. Lavery

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691183626

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691183626.001.0001

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Not About Japan

Not About Japan

Chapter:
(p.34) 1 Not About Japan
Source:
Quaint, Exquisite
Author(s):

Grace E. Lavery

Publisher:
Princeton University Press
DOI:10.23943/princeton/9780691183626.003.0002

This chapter aims to redirect an opera that is too often dislocated from that scene back within its boundaries. It explores the interpretive practices that have installed this certainty within critical approaches to such a semiotically complex work as Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. Early productions proudly exhibited its Japanese qualities: the putatively authentic sword and costumes onstage; the Japanese women recruited to teach the British actors how to dance; the “Miya Sama” theme, incorporated almost without amendment from a Japanese source. It was not until the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5, when the Japanese Empire confronted British audiences and critics with a newly threatening aspect, that critics collectively decided, never to recant, that the opera did not contain “a single joke against Japan,” as G. K. Chesterton put it, but was rather wholly designed to satirize and caricature British political culture. As such the affinities between The Mikado and a particular aspect of late-Victorian Orientalism have been obscured, and the semiotic problem Japanese culture posed to Victorians has been oversimplified.

Keywords:   The Mikado, opera, British political culture, late-Victorian Orientalism, Japanese culture, semiotic problem, interpretive practices

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