Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
The masks between Comedy and Drama differ in a major way. One you use to create the character, the other dictates the character to you. This is due to the nature of the roles: Comedic roles are static, dramatic roles change and develop.
A classic comedic performance (a play by Menander) complete with traditional masks, was recreated in Lipari. The translator of the play noted “the mask is the character” (Prosperi 1982). So, when they tried to cast the play they would have the actors start by “looking at himself masked, in a mirror and developed improvisational gestures to fit the character”. Then he saw that “the mask first appeared to possess an extraordinary power of psychological conditioning. No matter how diverse the actors were in age, physical type or social background, the same voice, the same gestures and the same rhythm came from each of them when they wore the same mask”. It appeared as though “changing actors behind each mask only provided irrelevant variations; only casting the masks differently produced a consistent image of for each character”.
For dramatic masks it is the actor who creates the character and then projects that character utilizing the mask, not the mask dictating the character. The masks of Greek Tragedy are not completely neutral. John Emigh says that pottery evidence has shown us that they are differentiated. However, the masks in tragedy are characters, not yet caricatures. These characters can change and develop and as a consequence, change their mask. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus must change his mask during the play to indicate a change of character. The Oedipus mask is not used to absolutely define the character; it is merely trying to give a representation of the period of life in which Oedipus is in at that moment on stage. This is not the way with Comedy masks, which are not trying to give great universal truths to the audience using theater. Comedy is trying to give the audience a good laugh using ridiculous characters and outlandish situations.
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