The Masks of Modernism

W. Anthony Sheppard

in Revealing Masks

Published by University of California Press

Published in print February 2001 | ISBN: 9780520223028
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520924741 | DOI:
The Masks of Modernism

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Masks are fundamentally double in function, signification, and experience, serving simultaneously as tools for disguise and as markers of identity. Covering the face renders the individual performer anonymous and neutralizes his or her humanity. At the same time, the performer is defined anew by the mask and is transformed into a deity, demon, or some universal superhuman type, or, conversely, into an exaggerated representation of a subhuman impulse. Beneath the mask, the performer is constrained by the fixed facial expression and at the same time liberated to explore the heightened expressivity of the rest of the body and the voice. In modern psychological theater, the masked face may serve to indicate profound duality in a character's personality—a tension between internal and external existence, between a private and a social self. In ritual performance, the masked performer is often regarded as a literal incarnation of the spirit or deity represented by the mask and is allowed to behave as such, free to act without fear of recrimination. Ultimately, a mask is a powerful disembodied signifier that is radically transferrable. Separate from any specific human realization, it functions as a concrete sign of a transcendent identity, regardless of wearer.

Keywords: mask; theatrical arts; social self; performers; psychological theater; ritual performance; transcendent identity

Chapter.  7356 words. 

Subjects: Applied Music

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