The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in China and the West saw a wave of skeptical approaches to metaphysics, ethics, and the physical sciences, including a related interest in “playing devil’s advocate” for seemingly weak propositions. This article analyzes two works of musical theater from these geographically remote traditions to argue that use of historically problematic romances to explore the relationship of ethics, emotion, and reason resulted in novel depictions of attachment emotions as neither purely selfless “gut reactions” nor calculating facades. Scenes depicting lovers’ quarrels and morally flawed characters may paradoxically strike audiences as more authentically romantic because they dramatize an aspect of attachment emotions’ functioning recently elucidated by cognitive science, namely, that of “body budgeting” (allocation of energy resources by the brain). Monteverdi and Busenello’s Coronation of Poppaea and Hóng Shēng’s Palace of Lasting Life use contrastive poetic and musical styles to dramatize the debate-like quality inherent in such negotiations, further revealing a strong connection between the affective “ingredients” that make up socially mediated emotion states and the mechanisms by which music and prosody affect them.
Staging Sincerity in Renaissance Italy and Early Modern China; or, Why Real Lovers Quarrel
Casey Schoenberger is assistant professor of Chinese Culture at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. His research focuses on cognitive, musicological, linguistic, and quantitative approaches to traditional East Asian poetry and performance. He has published peer-reviewed articles and translations on related topics in English and Chinese and is currently completing a manuscript on musicality in traditional Chinese poetry and drama.
Casey Schoenberger; Staging Sincerity in Renaissance Italy and Early Modern China; or, Why Real Lovers Quarrel. Poetics Today 1 June 2020; 41 (2): 281–299. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-8172584
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