By: STO Folarin Oyeleye, Foster High School, Troupe 7961
Hello everyone, we’re back with another weekly blog. Now, I have a question for y’all. When you think about theatre, what is the image that pops up in your head? If you imagined a stage, lights, or blackbox, that's great but . . . Those answers aren’t what I was looking for. What I wanted you to imagine was our emblem for theatre, the sock and buskin (the happy and sad mask). Masques have been an important part of theatre for many decades now, so why not take a look into our theatrical history to gain a better understanding of them?
To gain some insight into masques we must first go back to the heart of theatre, ancient greece! Masques were a nifty tool used by actors to not only play a multitude of roles, but to also convey a wide range of emotions. Due to the amphitheater being so spacious, the use of masques allowed for the audience to clearly see the emotions being expressed from the newfound visibility as opposed to the limitations of what an actor could do with just their face.
However, this idea truly flourished with the prospect of stylized masques. These helped tell the audience the difference between who was a hero, villain, or other noteworthy character. With commedia dell’arte also incorporating this with notorious characters such as Capitano, Harlequin (go read our pantomime blog if you want more backstory on him) and his various compatriots.
As for places throughout history you would see the implementation of masques, one would be at the English Banqueting House. In the 16th century it was very common for masque performances to be put on to celebrate special events. However, the death of Charles the 1st’s death and in fighting soon led to its demise until a later restoration.
Now, for just one final tangent, let us look in depth as to the history of the sock and buskin. Dionysus the god of wine was usually depicted as having a masques, so in order to honor him his worshippers birthed masques. They were not only a distinction between the two genres of play (comedies/tragedies) but they were also a separation of human nature. That’s how the symbol came about, but the name’s origin is somewhat different. The sock and buskin names derived from the fact that comedies were identified by a soccus (a piece of footwear akin to a slipper) and a buskin (laced half-boot) for tragedies.
Well, there you have it folks. A quick rundown as to the history and meaning of masques in theatre. I hope you had a good read, and as always, I encourage y’all to do further research if this is a subject that piques your interest.
Your 2021 Texas State Thespian Officers