Who is the Korean Shakespeare (or Pinter or Orton)?

Literature? Drama? Folk Art?

Literature? Drama? Folk Art?

What is the public recognition/importance of drama in Korea?

One of the latest pages in the Wikipedia Project is the Hyundae Munhak Literary Awards page. This award has been given every year since 1956 making it, I think, the longest running Literary Awards in Korea. Each year it has given a prize in Fiction. Every year except 1964 and 1967, it has given an award in Poetry. In 44 of its years it has given a prize in Criticism. But in its 57 years it has only given 13 awards in Drama.

This is kind of interesting, since to me drama sits between fiction and movies, and Korea is a strong producer and supporter of both.

So why is drama, apparently, not that important in literature?

A little digging (very little^^ – The Wikipedia and Google) turned up an abstract by Chan E. Park  which begins

Based on their own concept of what “play” (nori) is, Koreans had for generations cultivated styles of storytelling and enactment such as p’ansori, t’alch’um, and other folk as well as ritual performances.

Which means, if one knows pansori and other folk performances, primarily song and dance.

As to modern drama, Park notes:

In the beginning of the twentieth century, Koreans were exposed to the Western concepts of play, namely, drama and theater. Often interchangeable, the terms are to be distinguished: drama as literature designed for enactment, and theatre, an art of enactment. With the new import, Koreans broke loose from their indigenous resources to diversify their theatrical experiences. Throughout the twentieth century, the efforts to model after Western drama and theater by translating or adapting them in Korean continued. Sampling and shadowing outside influences continue to dominate the mainstream Korean stage into the twenty-first century.

Which means that the form adopted, was quite non-Korean, even though Park notes that some efforts have been made, particularly since the 1960’s, to re-install Korean elements into drama.

A look at the Wikipedia reinforces the idea that the theater is unimportant in Korea, with the entire article being unsourced, and small enough to catch in one screen shot:

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 12.57.21 PM

 Contrast that to the page for literature, which is well linked, and covers (albeit lightly) the entire history and range of Korean literature, even going back and including performance and dance as part of the literature.

So, is it safe to say that dramatic theater is essentially an import, that hasn’t really impacted the larger culture?


2 thoughts on “Who is the Korean Shakespeare (or Pinter or Orton)?

  1. Pingback: Drama, Theatre, and the Korean Shakespeare | Seoul Stages

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