The Chigo Deep Water (Chigo ga fuchi) in the play title was located off the island of Enoshima. It was there in the twelfth century that a young acolyte or temple page (chigo) named Shiragikumaru committed suicide rather than choose between two priests who vied for his love.
Keisei chigogafuchi (A courtesan and deep water at Chigo: けいせい稚児淵), along with Chigogafuchi koi no shiranami (Chigo deep water and the white waves of love: 児渕恋白浪), combined the legends of the outlaw Goemon with a revenge tale involving Shiragikumaru (renamed Sutewakamaru in the kabuki dramas). The conflated saga includes Sutewakamaru vowing to avenge the death of Takechi Mitsuhide who had been slain by Mashiba Hisayoshi (the theatrical namesake for the historical shôgun Toyotomi Hideyoshi). This links the Sutewakamaru plot with various Ishikawa Goemon mono (plays about Ishikawa Goemon: 石川五右衛門物), the legendary fugitive outlaw during the reign of Hideyoshi. Late in the play, Sutewakamaru transforms into Goemon.
For more about Goemon, use our Search page to find various prints featuring this role.
This is one of Hokuei's more impressive tetraptychs, including a dramatic illumination effect achieved with the torchlight and distinctive poses taken up by all four actors. This particular impression is quite early, signaled by the uniform printing of the dark sky on the far left sheet. Middle and late impressions, which represent the vast majority of surviving examples, show an ellipsis in the sky (just to the right of center above the rock form) due to a fault in the color block. See the white vertical patches in the example shown here on the right where the inking of the block was less successful in a later impression.
References: IKBYS-II, no. 310); MFAB (11.26862-5, no block defect); TWOP (no. 159; in 69-208-159); KSTZ, pp. 84-85, no. 107; KNP-6, p. 264