Life of King Tu Duc on stage

King Tu Duc, the longest reigning monarch of the Nguyen Dynasty, was brought to life this week in a new stage play.

The tuong (classical drama) was staged by the Hue Royal Arts Theatre and will compete in a 2016 Professional Tuong and Folk Opera Competition being organised by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism in Da Nang in late August.

The play, entitled Bi Kich Hoang De Thi Si (Tragedy of the Poet King), is being staged by director La Hung with the participation of 50 artists and musicians.

Researcher Phan Thuan An said that the theatre was courageous to portray the life of King Tu Duc on stage.

“I said ‘courageous’ because, until now, we do not know everything about the life of the king,” An said. “We do not know about all of his pains and his innermost feelings. We know that he loved literature, arts and had a deep knowledge of the country’s history and its historical personalities. He was also active in resisting the French invaders… But there are still a lot of questions about his life.”

King Tu Duc, born in 1829, was the fourth emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, ruling from 1847 until his death in 1883 at the age of 55.

A case of smallpox at the age of eight left him sterile and he had no children, despite keeping a huge harem of wives at his palace.

Even though many details of his life remain hidden, he is believed to have been a good king. He also wrote poems about hundreds of the country’s historic personalities. He used to read books until late at night, and paid great attention to the life of local inhabitants.

Director Nguyen Van Thanh said that Tu Duc was a patriot who expressed his love for the country through the poems he wrote.

“This play helps the audience know more about the history of the country. It is not easy to feature his life in only two hours,” he said.

Nguyen Phuoc Hai Trung, who wrote the script for the play, said the king lived through a series of tragedies in his private life and in the life of the country.

“The king talked about those tragedies in his poems,” he said. “The biggest tragedy of his personal life was the fact that he could not have any children, although he had over 100 wives and concubines. He was also helpless in the face of local authorities’ corruption and poor treatment towards local inhabitants. The biggest tragedy for the emperor was losing his country to French invaders despite all his resistance efforts.”

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