As were quite a number of other plays, Keisei tama tazuna (A courtesan and a jeweled rope: けいせい玉手綱) was an adaptation Koi nyôbô somewake tazuna (The loving wife's multicolored reins: 恋女房染分手綱) written in 1751 by the puppet master Yoshida Bunzaburô under the pen name Yoshida Kanshi I. Koi nyôbô was a revision of Chikamatsu Monzaemon's Tanba yosaku matsuyo no komuro bushi (1708), which it follows, more or less, while adding a subplot involving the Yurugi daimyô (military lord: 大名). As such, the subplot is an adauchi-mono (vendetta play: 仇打ち物) in the style of jidaimono (history play, lit., "period piece": 時代物) that was adapted from Chikamatsu's sewamono (domestic drama, lit. "everyday piece": 世話物).
The main theme involves Shigenoi, a lady-in-waiting at the Yurugi estate who is having an affair with Date Yosaku, a retainer to Saemon Yurugi, daimyô of Tanba. Yurugi givs him 300 ryô to ransom Iroha, a geisha in Gion, but the money is stolen by another retainer named Sagizuka Kandayû. (In the original Chikamatsu's version, Yosaku is a profigate who gambles away the money.) Shigenoi and Yosaku have had a child together, and their illicit relationship threatens to end in her exile or death until her father, a Nô actor, performs Dôjôji in which he commits seppuku (ritual suicide) to atone for his daughter's crime. Yurugi is moved by the performance and allows Shigenoi to remain as wet nurse to his infant daughter Shirabe-hime, although she is separated from her son and Yosaku is banished. He is then compelled to earn a living as a pack-horse driver. The play continues well into later years when Iroha, who changes her name to Seki no Koman (Koman from Seki), falls in love with Yosaku. He is given 300 ryô by his brother-in-law (a blind masseur named Keimasa) and, by chance, is reunited with his son, called Jinejo no Sankichi, also a pack-horse driver. Much later, Yosaku and Sankichi (by then called Yonosuke) defeat the villains who had slain Keimasa and, finally, Yosaku is welcomed back into the Yurgi household, where he lives with Shigenoi as his wife and Koman as his mistress.
As for Keisei tama tazuna, we have not found a script or synopsis. In the present scene, the servant Itsuhei is obviously confronting the daimyô Yurugi no Saemon, striking a conventional kabuki form (kata) by lifting one leg and raising a short sword above his head.
Sadanobu's diptych is a strong example of the transitional chûban style in Kamigata as smaller-than-ôban formats developed in the late 1830s leading into the five-year hiatus in Osaka printmaking under the Tenpô kaikaku (Tenpô reforms: 天保改革). The actors here are drawn in the smaller pictorial space just as effectively as similar figures were in the earlier ôban sheets. Even more effective would be the ôkubi-e ("large-head" or close-up bust portraits: 大首絵) that would frequently appear in much of Kamigata printmaking from 1847 until its demise in the 1880s.
The duplicate signatures and publisher seals confirm that this design is an uncut chûban diptych that was printed, as was the custom, on a single ôban, but without the original larger sheet ever having been cut in half.
This impression is from the celebrated Haber Collection, New York and is illustrated in Schwaab, Osaka Prints (see OSP below).
References: HSH, no. 12; OSP, no. 179