A YOUNG man, going into the world to make his fortune, stops at an inn on the road and there meets with a sage, who lends him a pillow. While the inn-servant is heating up the millet, the young man dozes on the pillow and dreams that he enters public life, is promoted, degraded, recalled to office, endures the hardship of distant campaigns, is accused of treason, condemned to death, saved at the last moment and finally dies at a great old age. Awaking from his dream, the young man discovers that the millet is not yet cooked. In a moment's sleep he has lived through the vicissitudes of a long public career. Convinced that in the great world "honour is soon followed by disgrace, and promotion by calumny," he turns back again towards the village from which he came.
Such, in outline, is the most usual version of the story of Rosei's dream at Kantan. The earliest form in which we know it is the "Pillow Tale" of the Chinese writer Li Pi, who lived from 722 to 789 A. D.
It is interesting to see how Seami deals with a subject which seems at first sight so impossible to shape into a Nō play. The "sage" is eliminated, and in the dream Rosei immediately becomes Emperor of Central China. This affords an excuse for the Court dances which form the central "ballet" of the piece. In the second half, as in Hagoromo and other plays, the words are merely an accompaniment to the dancing.
Chamberlain's version loses by the fact that it is made from the ordinary printed text which omits the prologue and all the speeches of the hostess.
The play is usually attributed to Seami, but it is not mentioned in his Works, nor in the list of plays by him drawn up by his great-grandson in 1524.
It is discussed at considerable length in the Later Kwadensho, which was printed c. 1600. The writer of that book must therefore have regarded the play as a work of Seami's period. It should be mentioned that the geography of the play is absurd. Though both his starting-point and goal lie in the south-western province of Ssechuan, he passes through Hantan, 1 which lay in the northern province of Chih-li.
155:1 In Japanese, Kantan.