The Legend of the White Snake;白蛇传

The Legend of the White Snake is a romance between a snake spirit and a human being. It is regarded as one of the four great folktales in China, and existed in oral tradition long before any written compilation. Scholars regard the story about the white snake in Stories to Caution the World (Jing shi tong yan), a fictional narrative by Feng Menglong (1574-1645), as a full written version of the oral legend. Feng’s story made the legend an architype, though it has been altered, revised and presented in a number of different local genres. There are also recent versions in modern spoken drama, film, television series and in the Western symphonic form.

The legend tells that after many years of cultivation and practice, a white snake and a green snake transform themselves into young women, the former is called Bai Suzhen (or Bai Niangzi, meaning Lady White), and the latter Xiao Qing (Little Green). They regard each other as sisters.

The chuanju version deviates from the above. On the stage, the female white snake has been locked up and guarded by the spirit of a toad. The snake falls in love with one of the Arhats. Later the white snake manages to run away; the Buddha sends the toad to chase the snake while the Arhat is punished by being made to leave Heaven because he has attempted to beg for mercy for the white snake. As she is escaping, the white snake meets a male green snake, and the two start fighting. The white snake defeats the green one. Admiring the white snake’s power, the green snake is willing to be her servant. They both transform into female figures. And from this point, the chuanju version joins the original story.

One day, at the Broken Bridge on the Western Lake they meet a young scholar, Xu Xian (who in the chuanju is the reincarnation of the Arhat). Bai and Xu fall in love and eventually get married. Holding a grudge against the snakes, a powerful Buddhist monk Fahai (who in the chuanju is transformed from the spirit of the toad) interrupts their happy marriage, and manages to capture Xu Xian and to imprison him in the Jinshan Temple.

The two clips show how Bai Suzhen comes to the Jinshan Temple to rescue her husband. With the help of a military force drawn from the sea in the form of shrimps, crabs and the like, the white snake uses her magic to flood the temple and fights with Fahai’s force. However, Bai’s ability is limited due to her pregnancy with Xu Xian’s child. Finally Fahai defeats Bai Suzhen and imprisons her in the Leifeng Pagoda.

In most regional song-dance theatres Little Green is performed by a female role type (dan), yet, in chuanju, the character can be presented by a male role, (sheng), (see Xiqu) and in this particular piece, the character is performed by two role types, one is a dan when Little Green deals with the mortal world; the other is a male-warrior role type when fighting against other spirits.

The special technique of chuanju “changing face” (bianlian) can be seen in the second clip. With a quick wave of the hands or by swiftly turning around, the actor, who plays the divine general, swaps masks almost instantaneously. This exhibits his supreme power.

Different theatrical genres present their own versions of the story, and often perform highlights of selected scenes.

《白蛇传》是一个关于人、蛇之间的爱情故事,中国四大民间故事之一,是口头文学传统的一部分。明末冯梦龙的《警世通言》里《白娘子永镇雷峰塔》可能是最详细的故事,自此,《白蛇传》基本成型,后世的戏曲对此有各种改编。当代有话剧、电影、电视以及交响音乐版白蛇的故事。

《白蛇传》的大致情节是:经过多年的修炼以后,一条白蛇与一条青蛇有了灵性,变换成女形。前者名为白素贞(也叫作白娘子),后者是小青,她们从此以姐妹相称。川剧的情节与此有所不同。川剧里白蛇被如来佛锁在了西天的白莲池中,由蛤蟆精看管。白蛇爱上了富有同情心的桂枝罗汉,挣脱锁链逃下凡间。如来佛派蛤蟆精去追捕,桂枝罗汉说情反被逐出西天,落入凡间转世为许仙。白蛇前往寻找许仙路遇青蛇,青蛇欲娶白蛇和白蛇比武,不敌而败。青蛇佩服白蛇敢于挣脱锁链寻求真爱,甘愿追随白蛇,为方便同行就也化身为女子。

此后的情节与大多数故事相同。在西湖断桥上面,他们碰到了由桂枝罗汉转世的书生许仙。白素贞和许仙终结良缘。然而,他们的婚姻受到和尚(一说道士)法海(川剧中是蛤蟆精的化身)的破坏。法海想办法抓走了许仙,并关在金山寺里。靠着海里虾兵蟹将的帮助,白蛇水漫金山寺并与法海的力量打斗。由于白蛇已有身孕,她被法海打败,并被永远镇在雷峰塔下。

第一个选段来自水漫金山,白素贞与法海的部下打斗。在大多数剧种里,小青都是旦行扮演,(参见戏曲)然而,川剧有用生行表演小青的传统。在这部川剧作品里,小青由两个行当扮演,在人间小青是个旦行演员,而当小青打斗时,扮演者是武生男演员。

第二个选段是白蛇被法海的神力所捉拿。在这一段里可以看见川剧表演的特色技巧“变脸”。有时用手一挡;有时一个迅速的转身,扮演天神的演员在一瞬间就变换了戴着的脸谱,以此显示神威。

不同的戏曲剧种有各自不同的演出版本,很多以演出折子戏为主。 

Performances

Audience Type
The Legend of the White Snake;白蛇传: , 2010

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