Mask of the Gasan Ogwangdae – White Yangban
Because at the time of their development Buddhism was suppressed and powerless, and the upper class held its position at least in part due to its knowledge of Confucianism, the mask dance dramas reflected the tastes and perspectives of the lower classes in how they treat both Confucian literati (officials and those who aspire to places of power) and Buddhist monks (who had been driven from the cities, but still often religiously served the lower class). Mask dance dramas, generally performed once per year, were part of festivals that allowed for a temporary suspension of normal social rules and the releasing of acrimony directed at the elite in a way well documented in masking traditions from many corners of the world. Mask dance dramas have oft-repeating themes such as the infidelity and even stupidity of upper class men, Buddhist monks who give in to temptation, and include what literati derided as “superstitious” practices designed to banish ghosts and evil spirits. Players fart, simulate intercourse, and fight—most scenes are meant to be humorous from start to finish.
Mask of the Gasan Ogwangdae – Malddugi
The variation in Korean mask dance dramas, however, is extreme, making it hard to generalize further. Some dramas are non-verbal, while others have extensive dialogue. Some dramas rely on extensive dance sequences, while others are based in acting. All characters were historically played by men, and consequently most “female” roles are non-verbal, as are most Buddhist monks. Characters do not have names, but are known by descriptors (grandmother, old monk, blue literati). As they are performed today the shortest is not quite an hour long, while the longest is over four hours, however most public performance opportunities are for an hour or less. Even the masks vary in construction from papier maché (the most common) to baskets to gourds to heavy paper to wood.