Article Title

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. The ritual masks of Korea, originally used to pray for abundant harvests and to expel evil spirits, slowly evolved into masks used in these artistic performances. Representative forms of the medieval Korean mask drama include Pongsan in the northern area, Sandae in the central region, Ogwangdae in the south, Yaryu in the Pusan area, and the Pukch’ong lion dance. Functioning as social criticism and entertainment, the plays proved popular enough among the common people to have been transmitted to the present day.

The variation of the mask dance addressed in this essay—Pongsan—typifies the gradual dilution of ritual aims of early dramatic forms through the increasing frequency of artistic performances. Representative of Korean medieval mask dance, the Pongsan version aptly demonstrates development from ritual ceremony to dramatic performance. Seasoned with entertainment and dance, the play encouraged audience, musicians, and players to participate in a way that heightened the its dramatic effects. Full of witticism and punning the dialogue conveys the sorrows and grievances of the masses in a comic way, one that allows the expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo yet at the same time honors the mode of wisdom teaching Koreans to take a positive view of life and to overcome life’s conflicts more affirmatively.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.