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Reflections of Inner Life: Masks and Masked Acting in Ancient Greek Tragedy and Japanese Noh Drama MARTHA JOHNSON !l is virtually undisputed that actors and chorus members always wore masks in fifth century (B.C.) Greek tragedy, and we have some excellent visual evidence (albeit limited) of these performers in Greek vase paintings.' But on the whole the theatrical functions of the mask have been, and continue to be somewhat misunderstood or underestimated by classical scholars. A notable exception is J. Michael Walton, who has written some brief but illuminating passages about masked acting in his excellent works on Greek performance practices.2 Meanwhile, in the areas of academic and professional theatre, artists and scholars have come to learn a great deal about the subtleties, complexities, and special power of masked acting. One major impetus for this rediscovery has come from the expanding study of theatre forms in Asia, where long and rich traditions of masked acting have survived to the present day. One result of this rediscovery is the re-emergence of the mask in contemporary Western performance. Another significant development is the growing use of the mask as an essential and dynamic tool in actor training schools in America and elsewhere. Yet misconceptions about masks and masked acting are still promulgated in many of the basic scholarly texts about Greek theatre. One misconception which classical scholars have tried to abolish is the nolion that the Greek perfonner's mask and costume were exaggerated and statuesque. The dominant perception of the Greek actor during the first half of this century was of an actor on high platform shoes, with padded costume, elaborate hairdo, and an exaggerated mask contorted with suffering. It is now firmly established that this type of costume emerged after the fifth century B.C. and is more closely associated with the Hellenistic and Roman actor rather than with the classical Greek. However, this conception has been slow in dying and was reinforced in the mind of the public with Tyrone Guthrie's farnous productions of Oedipus Rex and The House of Atreus, which used Modern Drama, 35 (1992) 20 Masks in Greek Tragedy and Noh 21 monumental costumes and masks. In strong contrast, the fifth century Greek actor's mask and appearance were simple and naturalistic. Another common opinion about the Greek mask has been that its major function was to create a kind of megaphone effect to help the actor vocally project in the large Greek theatres. Most scholars now consider this highly unlikely, based on modem experiments with similar masks' Instead, discussions about the mask have been generally limited to two concepts: first, to the theory that the mask was a religious convention inherited from Dionysian rituals of the sixth century; and secondly, to the notion that masks were used for practical reasons, enabling men to play female roles, allowing a small cast of actors to play several parts, and allowing the actor to show alteration in emotional or physical state by changing the mask. Scholars often conclude, therefore, that the mask was a necessity imposed on the actor for the above religious and practical reasons, and that this imposition gave rise to serious problems for performers, playwrights, and audience. Sir Arthur Pickard-Cambridge, T. B. L. Webster, Roy C. Flickinger, and Peter Walcot all comment upon the impossibility of the actor's expressing emotion because of his immobile mask. They point out the inability of the actor to kiss another character, or to weep, smile, or frown, all of which are called for in the dramatic texts. Scholars go so far as to point out passages in the texts which they feel "apologize" or compensate for the mask's immobility. Pickard-Cambridge, whose book The Dramatic Festivals ofAthens is still the leading work in English on Greek theatre practices, asserts that the mask's immobility must have created a sense of "incongruity" in the mind of the spectator, which the actor would have had to dispel by actually hiding his masked face in different ways: by bowing his head or covering it with a veil, by turning away, or by embracing another character.' He states, "there will have been many moments in Greek...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 20-34
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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