Masks for Menander: Imaging and Imagining Greek Comedy

by Richard Williams
Department of History of Art
University of Glasgow

This project is a collaboration between a classicist and a theatre practitioner to image in 3D ancient mask miniatures and to do performance research with reconstructions of the ancient masks. Initial results are displayed on a website, Greek Comedy in Performance ( This includes Quicktime VR object movies of some of the Lipari masks in Glasgow museum collections, and digital performance clips of scenes from Menander.

The paper will develop some of the questions raised by this work, and include demonstrations of the imaging technology and the performance reconstructions. It will explain how VR imaging of the artefacts from all viewpoints can present their innate dramatic properties better than paper publication, and how by compiling an electronic archive of the most theatrically informative specimens we hope to focus research on these issues rather than on the stylistic evolution of the modelling; it will also discuss how the expert eye of a trained practitioner can contribute to describing these qualities in both theoretical and particularised terms.

The paper will consider the problems and insights into the ancient sculptors' intentions that arise at different stages of the process of mask-making and dramatic realisation, both with exact copying and when conflating different specimens of the same mask type to create a viable new example that remains within the visual language of the originals. It will explain the training and performance techniques involved, including finding a physicality, costume and gestural language to suit the expressive possibilities of the mask, and how these in turn can throw new light on the ancient texts and representations. In particular it will draw on issues relating to discourse analysis, such as status play in dialogue, to show how the different characters in Menander adopt particular verbal strategies to negotiate and challenge the hierarchy imposed by the socially-encoded fixed visual elements of mask, physicality and costume.

Mask-maker and theatre practitioner Chris Vervain introduces some of the masks she has made for Glasgow University's New Comedy imaging and performance project.

There are smaller and larger versions of each clip to cater for different connection speeds. The free QuickTime Plugin necessary to view all of these clips can be downloaded from

Clip 1 (Large: 0.42MB) / (Small: 240KB)
Clip 2 (Large: 1.10MB) / (Small: 676KB)
Clip 3 (Large: 1.43MB) / (Small: 875KB)
Clip 4 (Large: 1.41MB) / (Small: 866KB)
Clip 5 (Large: 1.36MB) / (Small: 838KB)

Richard Williams
University of Glasgow