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Mask Dance-Dramas in Korea

The earliest authentic reference to the mask play appears in the Samguk sagi (History of the Three Kingdoms) which mentions three types performed during the ninth century of the Unified Shilla period. That the mask dance-drama continued to be played during the Koryo period is indicated by the Koryosa (History of Koryo) which refers to mask dance-drama as one of the plays offered in the 31st year of the reign of King Kojong (1244). During the Choson Dynasty, an official post was created for the express purpose of handling mask dance-drama, which, accordingly prospered as an official function of the court. In 1634, however, this post was abolished, and the mask dance-drama had to cater to the common people.

The mask dance-drama fall into four distinctive categories, three named after the localities where they were played.

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