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Korean Masks Posted by on Oct 19, 2010 in Culture

Traditional Korean masks have been around as long as plays and satire have been used to express the discontent of the lower classes. Masks were word not only to represent various characters in a play, but to hide the faces of the actors who made fun of powerful people. Here are some of the more common Korean masks used by actors to ridicule various sections of Korean society.

Yangbantal (양반탈) was a mask depicting the upper echelons of ancient Korean society. These masks will often have a hat attached to the mask, quite like the hat that the upper classes wore. These masks were often worn to imitate high ranking nobles who influenced court politics. This mask was a stereotypical reflection of upper class people being greedy, selfish and overbearing.

Seonbital (선비탈) was a mask that represented the scholar class. Like the scholars of the day, the mask has a special hat attached to the top of the mask. These scholar masks were used to depict scholars as rambling fools who pretended to know everything. These masks were often used in quite comical situations where the haughtiness of the scholar was exposed.

Gakshital (각시탈) was a mask that symbolized a newly married bride. These masks were used in situations where sexual puns and metaphors were used in a banter between actors. In a time when censorship of grahpic material was prohibited in Korea, these bride masks were stealthy ways of talking about subjects that were not acknowledged publicly.

Baekjongtal (백정탈) was a mask depicting the lowest class in Korean society. In the past, Korean society was heavily divided into classes, with the butcher class being comparable to the slave class. Butchers were considered unclean because they handled the carcasses of animals. Therefore the butcher classes were discriminated against and mistreated by all levels of society.

Jungtal (중탈) was a mask that satirized Buddhist monks. The masks often emphasized baldness and lack of hair because monks had shaven heads. The masks were used to feature the hypocracy of the monk lifestyle. The actors playing the monks would often dress themselves by carrying a staff, a staw basket for begging and a bracelet of beads for praying.

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  1. Marika:

    Thank you for posting this magnificent cultural elemant of Korea.
    It is so fantastic

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