The History of Masks in Drama

Written by stephany elsworth
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The History of Masks in Drama
Dramatic masks often exaggerated an actor's expressions. (mask image by Snezana Skundric from Fotolia.com)

Masks have been used in theatrical productions for thousands of years. The University of Southern Queensland explains that masks are physical objects that connect the viewer to the story, which helps make the drama more believable.

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Greek and Roman Masks

Greek masks often depicted gods and goddesses during ritual dramatic performances. These oversized masks were fitted around the actor's mouth so that he could project his voice. Roman masks allowed actors to play multiple parts. Like Greek masks, Roman masks were greatly enlarged and used exaggerated expressions so that the audience could see the character's emotional state, even from a distance.

Japanese Noh Theater

Noh theatre dates back to the eighth century. Although some masks were only used for specific roles, the actor often chose the mask based upon the character's gender, age, emotional state and according to his interpretation of the role. The Japan Arts Council explains that the mask and the actor's movements were used together to represent emotions on the stage.

Mystery Plays

During the 12th and 13th centuries, European clergymen created mystery plays to show the public the evils of sinful behaviour and dramatise placing wrongdoers on a path of correction. The papier-mache masks usually depicted demons.

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