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COMPARATIVE F?F???F Volume 39 · Nos. 3, 4 · Fall/Winter 2005-06 Medieval Korean Drama: The Pongsan Mask Dance DONGCHOON Lee Medieval Korean drama is a composite art that technically dramatizes social ideas, norms, and culture, ingeniously harmonizing Korean customs and its dramatic functions. It is performed by actors who wear various masks, diverse both in function and symbolic value. Masks once employed in primitive society as camouflage for hunting or as magical tools to evoke supernatural power gradually developed into religious masks used for ritual ceremonies and works of art.1 The ritual masks of Korea, originally used to pray for abundant harvests and to expel evil spirits, slowly evolved into masks used in artistic performances.2 Such is the case in the transition ofthe function ofthemasks in Cheoyongmu, a style of mask dance once popular in the Three Kingdoms period (c.57 B.C.E.). The variation of the mask dance addressed in this essay— Pongsan—typifies the gradual dilution of ritual aims of early forms through the increasing frequency of artistic performances. As a representative case of Korean medieval mask dance, the Pongsan variation 264Comparative Drama aptly demonstrates the development ofits goals from that ofritual ceremony to that ofdramatic performance. The Korean traditional play is closer to the Japanese Noh play than to the Chinese Nahee play in several ways.3 The masks used in Korean drama do not include hats, regardless of the social status of the characters .When characters are in particular need ofa hat, theyuse one appropriate to theirrole.This is at least partlybecause the masks cover only up to the forehead of the actor with simple lines added on to suggest hair. Accordingly, it is only through the facial expression carved and painted on the mask that the attributes of a character are presented to the audience . These aspects of the Korean mask are identical to those used in Japaneseplays. Moreover,the characteristics ofKorean masks,including those used in Pongsan, are the same as those used in other Korean mask dances. The colors—generally red,black,and white—vary from maskto mask to reflect a character's age and personality and to convey certain symbolic meanings. The color ofa mask representing summer, the farming season,for example,is white or red,while a maskthat symbolizeswinter , the season in which farming is not possible, is black (see figure 1). Another characteristic peculiar to the masks used in medieval Korean drama is that the features are exaggerated and abnormal. Eyes, noses, and mouths are unbalanced and disproportionate compared with more realistic facial constructions. Despite these distortions, however, the masks retain a semblance of humanity and produce an atmosphere of reality and humor. Earlyforms ofKorean maskdrama,such as Pyolshin-gut,Songhwanggut , and Todang-gut, are believed to have been performed as long ago as the Three Kingdoms period, though, due to scant documentation, exact origins have not yet been clearly established. The only documents that specialists can rely upon—those from China—indicate the most likely evolutionary-like scenario to be as follows: that Cheoyongmu developed from the age of Shilla (c.57 b.c.e.) into Sandaechab-gut in the Koryo dynasty and then finally into Sandaedogam-gut in the Chosun dynasty.4 The records also show that there were professional players in the court who were hired to perform for official national events and celebrations, particularly for the feast to greet Chinese diplomats. As the national economy weakened because ofwars with both China and Japan during Dongchoon Lee265 Fig. 1: The masks used in medieval Korean drama. the Chosun dynasty, the mask drama gradually disappeared from the court and government, only to reappear in the realm of the "common people" where it took on the characteristics of the region in which it was located.5 Representative forms ofthe mask dance include Pongsan in the north, Sandae in the central region, Ogwangdae in the south, Yaryu in the Pusan area, and the Pukch'ong lion dance in Pukch'ong. Functioning both as social criticism as well as entertainment, the plays proved popular enoughto betransmittedto thepresent dayalbeitin alteredform and for different reasons. Among the regional plays just mentioned, it was the highly entertaining and artful...


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