Plays and Characters

Category of plays

The numerous plays in Noh are divided into five categories according to the shite’s (main actor) role. The categories indicate the order of performance when Noh and Kyogen are performed in the course of a single day, and help you understand the nature of the pieces.

Category of Noh plays

Gobandate” is a five-play program in which five Noh plays are performed in a single day. One play is selected from each of the five categories of plays that are divided according to the shite’s role, and a Kyogen play is performed in between the Noh plays. The categories are named in order, starting from “first category,” followed by “second category,” and ending with “fifth category.” There is also another type of program called “Okina-tsuki Gobandate,” meaning “five-play program with Okina.” It begins with “Okina,” followed by a five-play program, after which a celebratory Noh is performed, and it is considered the most prestigious type of program.

Category of plays
  • First category: God playA god is the shite who bestows blessings and auspicious words. Also referred to as “god Noh.”
  • Second category: Warrior playIt is about a warrior who has fallen into shura (the realm of warring hell) but continues to fight even after death. Also referred to as “warrior Noh.
  • Third category: Woman playA graceful woman is the shite, such as characters in the literature of the Heian period often written by court women. Also referred to as “woman Noh.”
  • Fourth category: Miscellaneous playThis category includes Noh pieces about various subject matters that are difficult to group with other categories. Also referred to as “miscellaneous Noh.”
  • Fifth category: Ending playA range of beings play shite, such as demon and goblin. Also referred to as “ending Noh.”

* In modern times, it has become common to stage more simplified programs while taking into account the aim of the five-play program.

Category of Kyogen plays

In Kyogen, plays are also categorized by their characters. Depending on the shite’s role, plays can be divided into many categories that reflect the content which is more diverse than Noh.

Other categories include “Fortune God Kyogen,” “Farmer Kyogen,” “Priest Kyogen” in which a priest plays the shite, “Blind man Kyogen” in which the shite is mainly a blind character, and “Miscellaneous Kyogen” about various subject matters that are difficult to group with other categories.

* The categories and shite roles may vary by the school.

Category of plays
  • Feudal lord Kyogen Shite: Feudal lord
  • Servant Kyogen Shite: Mainly Taro Kaja
  • Son-in-law Kyogen Shite: Son-in-law
Category of plays
  • Woman Kyogen: The key character is a woman
  • Mountain priest Kyogen: Mpuntain priest appears
  • Ogre Kyogen: Ogre or King of hell appears

“Shin-Nan-Nyo-Kyo-Ki”

This is a short-form term for Shin (god), Nan (man), Nyo (woman), Kyo (madness), and Ki (ogre), referring to the shite characters in the first to fifth categories in that order.