Noh was formed around the 14th century and is one of the oldest living dramatic forms in existence today. It is perhaps, the longest continuing tradition of masked drama in the world today. It is largely an abstract, symbolic form of drama and no attempt at realism is ever made. Plays are concerned with remorse or supernatural events and capture in words, music and dance the tragic climaxes of profound emotion. Text has a function similar to that of opera. Noh is making a statement to the imagination of the audience and makes use of gorgeous costumes, and masks on a simple stage to create an ever changing series of patters in what could best be describe as a dramatic tone poem.

This explanation of Noh draws extensively from: “A Guide to No” by P.G. O’Neill, “The Noh Drama: Ten Plays from the Japanese and “No The Classical Theatre of Japan" by Donald Keene.


“Kyogen is the comedy vignette form which developed alongside of and in conjunction with Noh Drams. Both of these forms of drama were perfected and flourished during the Muromachi Period (1380-1466). While Noh and Kyogen are performed on the same stage and there is a part for a Kyogen actor in almost every Noh play, they are two completely separate forms. The training of the actors is different and no professional actor performs both forms.”

This paragraph was taken from: “Author’s Preface”, “A Guide to Kyogen” by Don Kenny

“Noh is usually about gods and spirits, it is an idealistic drama which peers deeply into the mysteries of the spirit; Kyogen is always about human beings, even its gods are obviously mortal. It does not need music because there is no mystery to suggest; nor is it slow, stately, or poetic, its language is vernacular and its tempo faster than life. It is our
foibles which Kyogen celebrates, just as Noh illuminates our aspirations. The Kyogen actor’s delivery is fast, always on his feet, these are the stand-up comedians of the fourteenth century. Mistakes, error, sloth, all of the appetites, but never, never vulgar, never the wise guy.”

This paragraph was taken from: “Introduction”, by Donald Richie; “A Guide to Kyogen” by Don Kenny.