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What's a Mummers Play?

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Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull 20 Jul 02 - 01:20 AM
DMcG 20 Jul 02 - 01:52 AM
masato sakurai 20 Jul 02 - 02:45 AM
Herga Kitty 20 Jul 02 - 04:31 AM
pavane 20 Jul 02 - 04:21 PM
GUEST 20 Jul 02 - 04:36 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 20 Jul 02 - 07:40 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 20 Jul 02 - 07:59 PM
Malcolm Douglas 20 Jul 02 - 08:15 PM
masato sakurai 20 Jul 02 - 09:23 PM
Lyrical Lady 20 Jul 02 - 09:46 PM
little john cameron 20 Jul 02 - 09:50 PM
little john cameron 20 Jul 02 - 09:52 PM
little john cameron 20 Jul 02 - 09:54 PM
pavane 20 Jul 02 - 10:25 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 20 Jul 02 - 10:41 PM
pavane 20 Jul 02 - 10:45 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 21 Jul 02 - 12:34 AM
Malcolm Douglas 21 Jul 02 - 08:11 AM
DMcG 21 Jul 02 - 11:57 AM
GUEST,Philippa 22 Jul 02 - 07:43 AM
nickp 22 Jul 02 - 10:04 AM
IanC 22 Jul 02 - 11:40 AM
McGrath of Harlow 22 Jul 02 - 01:25 PM
greg stephens 23 Jul 02 - 07:34 AM
GUEST,guest, fred 23 Jul 02 - 09:21 AM
IanC 23 Jul 02 - 09:35 AM
alanww 23 Jul 02 - 10:36 AM
Malcolm Douglas 23 Jul 02 - 10:53 AM
IanC 23 Jul 02 - 11:19 AM
greg stephens 23 Jul 02 - 05:21 PM
greg stephens 23 Jul 02 - 05:39 PM
McGrath of Harlow 23 Jul 02 - 05:54 PM
Herga Kitty 23 Jul 02 - 06:25 PM
Dicho (Frank Staplin) 23 Jul 02 - 06:35 PM
Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull 23 Jul 02 - 08:47 PM
Malcolm Douglas 23 Jul 02 - 10:43 PM
greg stephens 24 Jul 02 - 02:18 AM
greg stephens 24 Jul 02 - 04:56 AM
GUEST,Fred Miller 24 Jul 02 - 10:13 AM
IanC 14 Nov 02 - 07:52 AM
GUEST,Penny S. (elsewhere) 14 Nov 02 - 12:16 PM
GUEST 14 Nov 02 - 01:58 PM
Art Thieme 14 Nov 02 - 03:32 PM
GUEST,Bill 14 Nov 02 - 07:17 PM
Hester 14 Nov 02 - 09:16 PM
MAG 15 Nov 02 - 09:33 PM
Hester 20 Nov 02 - 09:39 AM
IanC 20 Nov 02 - 09:45 AM
*#1 PEASANT* 20 Nov 02 - 09:53 AM
Hester 21 Nov 02 - 11:50 AM
IanC 21 Nov 02 - 12:30 PM
michaelr 21 Nov 02 - 09:37 PM
Hester 22 Nov 02 - 04:13 PM
IanC 15 Jul 03 - 12:42 PM
LadyJean 16 Jul 03 - 12:28 AM
IanC 16 Jul 03 - 04:17 AM
The Shambles 16 Jul 03 - 06:04 AM
Doktor Doktor 16 Jul 03 - 06:59 AM
Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull 29 Oct 03 - 08:57 PM
GUEST,AR282 29 Oct 03 - 10:41 PM
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Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull 12 Dec 04 - 03:57 AM
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Subject: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 01:20 AM

I have seen a few people mention mummers plays here, but I don't know what they are does any body know ?Thanks.john PS. I put mummers play in the search filter thing and searched for 3 years, but I only found 1 thread with only 4 messages on it. I am not really sure if this question is BS, so I put it anyway just in case.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: DMcG
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 01:52 AM

A mummer's play is a traditional play, usually performed at either Easter or Christmas (but these days at any opportunity!) It has a cast consisting of most of the following and perhaps a few more

- St George
- A Turkish Knight
- A Doctor
- A fool
- A 'wife' which is a man dressed as a woman

The action is usually a short speech by each character:

In comes I, St George the hero bold
With my bloody spear I gained a thousand pounds in gold
I fought the firey dragon and brought him to the slaughter
And by that means I won the Queen of Egypt's daughter

then a fight bewteen St George and the Turkish Knight during which St George gets killed. The doctor is called and brings him back to life by his medicine:

I can cure the itch, the stitch, the palsy and the gout
All aches within and pains without

.. is a typical sort of declaration. Once St George is resurrected, all sing. The song "Come Write me Down (The Wedding Song)" is from a mummer's play and is the wedding between the fool and the wife.

There is a lot of variation, but the basic structure is pretty common


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: masato sakurai
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 02:45 AM

Mummers play threads in the Forum:

Mumming plays

A timely mummers play!

Instant Mummers Play: Just Add...?

Links:

English Folk Play Links

The English Mummers Play (links)

~Masato


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 04:31 AM

And info about Herga Mummers (including text of play and photos) can be found on www.hergafolk.org - Kitty


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: pavane
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 04:21 PM

It is said to be the survival of a pagan fertility play, formerly found widely in Europe. It deals with the killing and miraculous resurrection of a central character. I have read that in the fullest (Euorpean) versions, there are parents, grandparents and children as well, but I don't have any references to check it out.

Incidentally, a version of the speech often made by the (quack) doctor is in the Bodleian Ballad Library as a song, 'The Infallible Doctor'


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 04:36 PM

It is said to be the survival of a pagan fertility play

Exactly, it is said...

There is no evidence whatsoever that the tradition is more than 150 years old

Quite why people insist on inventing 'pagan origins' for songs, rhymes, customs etc is beyond me


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 07:40 PM

Mummery was common in England in the 16th century. For brief references in the literature of that date, see the OED, but any good encyclopaedia will yield a lot more. The practice is quite old, but any reference to pre-Christian mummery is speculative at best.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 07:59 PM

Mummery was well-known in the Middle Ages. It came into disrepute in the 16th century and Henry VIII issued a proclamation prohibiting the wearing of masks, etc. because mumming had led to outrages.
The Encyc. Britannica puts in an "it is said" comment that "Mumming seems to have been a survival of the Roman custom of masquerading during the annual orgies of the Saturnalia."


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 08:15 PM

The English Folk Dance and Song Society and the Folklore Society have recently published Room, Room Ladies and Gentlemen: an Introduction to the English Mummers' Play (ISBN 9 780854 181858), written by Eddie Cass and Steve Roud. I'd recommend it as a very useful and clearly written introduction; it's aimed largely at teachers and schools but is also helpful for any newcomer to the subject. Current research seems to point to an origin of the custom somewhere in the early 18th or late 17th centuries (certainly not "the Middle Ages"), but there is more work to be done of course. The Victorian preoccupation with the supposed pagan origins of traditional customs is largely discredited now, though still clung to by many romantics.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: masato sakurai
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 09:23 PM

The Mummers (from Chambers's Book of Days. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott&Co., 1879. Vol. 2, pages 739-741).

~Masato


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Lyrical Lady
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 09:46 PM

I have a good friend with the sir name of "Mummery"...any connection????

LL


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: little john cameron
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 09:50 PM

Mummering is still popular here in Newfoundland especially at Christmas.Although not done much as a play any more,something like a trick or treat thing.It was also banned here years ago for the same reasons.
The Nfld Folk Arts Council had an instuctional workshop a few years ago about putting on a Mummer's play,including how to make the hobby horse.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: little john cameron
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 09:52 PM

OOPS. J H Tarrant painting


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: little john cameron
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 09:54 PM

Geez,whit's gaun oan here.Try this.
http://members.tripod.com/~JHTarrant/mummers.jpg


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: pavane
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 10:25 PM

Here is The Infallible Doctor which I mentioned above.

Anyone familiar with mumming will recognise parts of the song. And it has a tune as well.

I will try to track down that European reference, but I won't be home for several days. That could help with the dating.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 10:41 PM

For a good selection of English mummers' plays: Mummers


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: pavane
Date: 20 Jul 02 - 10:45 PM

There is also at least one Welsh mummers play (English language) from the Swansea Valley. (I took part in it a few years ago).


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 21 Jul 02 - 12:34 AM

More than you want to know:
From the days of Gregory the Great (end of 6th century onwards) "the Western Church tolerated and even attracted to her own festivals popular customs, significant of rejoicing, which were in truth relics of heathen ritual. Such were the Mithraic feast of the 25th of December, or the egg of Eostre-tide, and a multitude of Celtic or Teutonic agricultural ceremonies. ... such as the dipping of the neck of corn in water, sprinkling holy drops upon persons or animals, processions of beasts or men in beast-masks, dressing trees with flowers, and the like, but above all ceremonial dances, often in disguise."

A performance was observed by the Roman, Tacitus. He wrote of the sword dance, of which an important feature was the symbolic threat of death to a victim. There is occasional mention of this performance to the later middle ages. "By this time it had attracted to itself a variety of additional features and of characters familiar as mummers, pace-eggers, ... who continualy enlarged the scope of their performances..." "The dramatic expulsion of death, or winter, by the destruction of a lay figure- common throughout western Europe about the 8th century- seems connected with a more elaborate rite, in which a disguised performer ... was slain and afterwards revived (the Pfingstl, Jack in the Green (Green Knight)." In the 15th century, "livelier incidents were added...popular heroes such as St George..." Commedia dell' Arte figures were added- the doctor, etc.

The buffooneries of the feast of fools (or asses), "which enjoyed the greatest popularity in France (though protests against it are on record from the 11th century onwards to the 17th, was well-known from London to Constantinople."

Extracted from the essay on Drama (Medieval Drama), by Adolphus William Ward (known for his definitive "History of English Dramatic Literature to the Age of Queen Anne") in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th edition.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 21 Jul 02 - 08:11 AM

I think at this point we need to clarify one or two things, if only to avoid confusing others. "Guest" and I have been talking about Mummers' Plays, of which there is no known record earlier than the 18th century. Dicho is talking about Mummers as a whole, which is not the same thing; the term is an old one and covers, so to speak, a multitude of sins. Certainly there are mediaeval references to Mummers; while they dressed up and performed in various ways, none of the many records indicate that they performed plays of any sort. The term is still also occasionally used in Britain (and more commonly in the USA, I think) to describe "luck-visitors" and the like who wear disguise but do not perform plays.

Adolphus William Ward was born in 1837 and died in 1924; he seems to have subscribed to the "pagan origins" theory which was popular in his day. Some of the connections he makes in his article as quoted above would be rather suspect by modern standards, and don't relate to the Mummers' Play at all; he seems to have assumed that "mummers" always referred to the same thing (it didn't; it's a generic term meaning more or less "any person who performs in disguise"), and that the simple use of the term implied some sort of link or continuity between all instances in which it occurred. The same seems to be the case with the Book of Days reference that Masato gave earlier on.

In fact, not all performers of the seasonal folk plays are called, or call themselves "mummers", anyway. There are Soulers, Pace Eggers, Plough Jags (or Stots) and so on. In the North of England a form of the play is often associated with the sword dance, but this is not the case elsewhere. Quotations from old works of general reference are interesting but liable to cause confusion to a newcomer to the subject, as they often make unprovable assertions based on "evidence" which in fact has no connection to the folk-plays; this is one of the reasons why the "pagan origins" fallacy has persisted so long out of its time.

Online, the best central source for reliable, up-to-date information is the Traditional Drama Research Group; Masato provided a link to their links page earlier on. A useful discussion of the origins of the Play(s) can be seen at Mystery History: The Origins of British Mummers' Plays; this is a short piece written in 1989 by Peter Millington of the TDRG, for the American Morris Newsletter.

I've never heard it suggested, as DMcG did earlier, that Come Write Me Down has roots in the Mummers' Plays, though I'd be interested to hear more about that. It was a popular 19th century broadside song (often titled Second thoughts are best), being to all appearances a re-write of an earlier broadside of the later 17th century (If you love me tell me so; Or, Loves fierce Dispute), which latter is rather earlier than the first known references to Mummers' Plays. Copies of both songs can be seen at Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: DMcG
Date: 21 Jul 02 - 11:57 AM

Ok, I admit it, I don't know that "Come Write me Down" has roots in the mummers plays; simply that I have heard it sung at the end of such plays. It could easily be a recent addition.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST,Philippa
Date: 22 Jul 02 - 07:43 AM

Last month I posted a message about contemporary research into mumming in Ireland Room to Rhyme

see also wrenning


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: nickp
Date: 22 Jul 02 - 10:04 AM

Just to confuse, there is a tradition of mumming in Philadelphia which is a glorified variation on carnival with wonderfully impressive costumes. I'm sure there'll be a Philly 'catter who can expand (I only found it as a visitor from the UK 20 years ago). I'm sure it's related in a way with the 'dissembling'/hiding of real person.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: IanC
Date: 22 Jul 02 - 11:40 AM

Well said, all.

I used to go mumming with Pete Millington in the '70s ... he's always been strong on the academic bits.

Personally, I prefer this, psychologically more accurate version of the history of the sport.

Ian Chandler
Ashwell Mummers
ex 'Owd Oss


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 22 Jul 02 - 01:25 PM

The key thing about mumming is people dressing up, and in the prcess getting a bit of anonymnity which enables them to do things they otherwise might not get away with.

Such as on the one hand performing plays which might involve making rude remarks about impotant peopel; or going around negging, which can shade into demanding money with menaces.

But of course dressing up in disguise is also handy if you engaged in some kind of jacquerie - burning ricks or smashing machines. And sometimes very much the same kind of costumes have been used in this context too.

It'd be interesting to know how far these two traditions relate to each other.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: greg stephens
Date: 23 Jul 02 - 07:34 AM

Malcolm Douglas often falls into a logical trap of his own making: he tends to confuse lack of proof of X existing with proof that X does not exist. Granted we do not have texts with dialogue of a Hero Combat/Death and Resurrection drama from 1500 or 1066 or whatever. This by no means proves that Hobby Horses did not die and get resurrected by semi-humorous Doctors at the time.I am perfectly happy to presume that the widespread existence of these Death and Resurrection routines throughout Europe and Asia do indeed come from a very long-standing, widespread custom/religious practise which antedates Christianity.
Obviously customs and formats change radically with time:one community may stick to animal disguises and a dance performance, others adopt dialogue-rich plays with St George and Turkey Knights. But the central core of these related activities would seem to me to go back a long long way, and that seems to be the simplest explanation of a lot of related facts.Certainly more sensible than some theory that the customs sprang up from nowhere in 1750 or whatever.. ... .


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST,guest, fred
Date: 23 Jul 02 - 09:21 AM

I think there was a fairly detailed account of costumed holiday mumming in War and Peace, I don't recall if a play was put on, but the children wore costumes, etc. why do people want to find old antecedents for things? I don't know that they do, but it's usually a pretty reasonable assumption that something evolved from something else, unless there's some strong reason that people would have suddenly started a spontaneous original social custom. Go out today, try to start one.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: IanC
Date: 23 Jul 02 - 09:35 AM

Greg

Whilst I agree with you that Malcolm does tend towards the "if it's not recorded, it doesn't exist" school of thought which I have argued against previously (a good example I have given previously is in the early interpretation of the Early English poem "The Dream of The Rood"), in this case quite careful research has been done, and this article by Pete Millington, which Malcolm quoted, is quite informative. I have known Pete since the '70s and he knows a lot about mummers' plays.

There is one important area where the hypothesis could be attacked ... this is early references to "mummers" etc. from Bede (circa 730) onwards. Modern researchers like Pete explain these by saying that "mummers" and "guisers" can mean many different things and need not mean people performing the plays. So well and good, but they can't demonstrate that they don't ... and a single unequivocal instance, either of a play or reference to one, would throw the whole "recent hypothesis" out of the window. As such, it's a good hypothesis because it can be tested.

As regards the "St George" aspect of the play, it is - of course - unlikely to be before the 17th Century because it appears to have come from Richard Johnson's "History of the Seven Champions", first published in 1596-7. However, The "Legenda Aurea" (Golden Legend) here contains some of the material and was first compiled by Jacobus de Voragine in 1275 (printed in English by Caxton in 1483), so ...

The "related activities" argument has been used much too loosely in the past and so is currently out of fashion, having been "discredited". There are, however, aspects of it which can be helpful and it will become useful again once people feel able to trust it. Meanwhile, there's always the psychological analysis (see my post above) and a nice example of this is the Jungian analysis here which contains a lot more of value than at first appears.

Some of the contributions above show a non-understanding of traditional practices based simply on the fact that the people contributing are not taking part in them. This can easily be forgiven! I think you have a very useful point whan you state that things don't just spring up from nowhere, though.

Another question I'd like to be asked more often is why so many people continue to keep on doing these things. It would, I think, lead to a much firmer understanding of why traditional practices survive so tenaciously (and why they're in essence much older than some people are willing to give credence to). How many people ever ask other than mechanical questions of the people performing these plays?

:-)
Ian


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: alanww
Date: 23 Jul 02 - 10:36 AM

There is a wealth of info in this thread. I should just add that the Ron Shuttleworth collection, which is on behalf of the Morris Ring of England is accessed through Morris Ring Archive of Folk Plays. What Ron doesn't know about mummers plays isn't worth knowing! [He writes and sings a good song aswell!]

John from Hull: Has the thread now answered your original question?

My uncle Billy had a ten foot w*lly
And he showed it to the girl next door.
She thought it was a snake so she hit it with a rake
And now its only five foot four! 0y!!

That's one of the songs we sing after our mummers plays ...

Alan
Captain of Shakepeare Mummers


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 23 Jul 02 - 10:53 AM

As a rule, when I say things like "there is no evidence that such-and-such existed before this time", I am expressing, not a personal opinion, but my understanding of the general consensus among experts (of which I am not one) who, unlike me, have studied the subject in some depth. As it happens, I read the Cass/Roud book only a few weeks ago (a review copy; I do get just the occasional perk) so the current state of thought on the subject as summarized there was fairly fresh in my mind. That doesn't mean that what I, or anyone else says, is necessarily right; just that, given the present state of knowledge, it is the most likely case. There may well have been earlier forms of mummers' play, perhaps involving death and resurrection, but we don't know about them, so we can't assume that just because it would be nice.

The presence of analogous practices in other countries doesn't in itself say anything about the practice here, where the basic play text seems to have spread via chapbooks and seems to have grown considerably in popularity through that medium; on the other hand, "new" old material relating to traditional pursuits comes to light from time to time and may well do in this case, at which point a re-assessment of the current working hypotheses will be made.

I don't see any "logical trap" there, but I'm quite willing to admit that at times I may express myself a little over-emphatically, though this is perhaps necessary when dealing with "folklore about folklore", where often-repeated assumptions (some demonstrably false, others just unsubstantiated) tend in time to assume the weight in people's minds of actual evidence. Perhaps I should include more caveats, but that might lead to unwieldiness in an already over-elaborate sentence structure...!


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: IanC
Date: 23 Jul 02 - 11:19 AM

Thing is, there is some evidence but it's often been "assessed out" as being irrelevant because there is some chance the events might have been something else and they don't fit the current hypothesis very well. Greg's got a very strong point when he says that a continuous tradition, which may well have changed its nature or started being recorded for some reason, is a simpler hypothesis than that something just started up all of a sudden (in which case there might be expected to be some evidence for this rather abrupt appearance of something new).

I'll give an example of some evidence which can be interpreted one way or the other ...

It's well known, and well documented, that St George plays were commonly used as part of the fundraising by churchwardens known as "Church Ales". Basically, they were allowed to brew and sell a special strong ale once a year for their own fundraising. Various churchwardens' accounts mention these plays, for example in 1482-83 at Thame, Oxfordshire the Churchwardens' Accounts of the Parish of St. Mary mention a Play of St. George associated with a Church Ale. In both 1607 and 1613, similar records exist for Wells, Somerset.

In 1511, a good deal was spent on ale and equipment for a play fo St George as a one-off to fundraise "toward an ymage of george" (to be presented to the King and Queen in 1512) in Bassingbourn, Cambs. This was essentially a one-off "Church Ale" with an appropriate purpose.

As noted here, church ales were usually rowdy and when less damaging forms of fundraising became available, they were discontinued ... this was not well recorded. I quote:

Historians know well that events are best shown up in written sources when they contravene custom or legislation. The names of common people most frequently enter the annals of written history when they appear in court records for greater or lesser crimes; not infrequently, drunkenness on feast days. The once-heated debates of churchwardens and clergy are veiled beneath the dry records of parish registers. These same registers reveal year after year the amounts spent preparing for such festivities as 'church ales' - until, abruptly, these expenses are no longer part of the meticulous lists. No one at the time explicitly stated that church ales had been superseded by other (less bawdy) forms of fund-raising, but the evidence is clear enough. So the genealogy of popular customs can be pieced together.

Here's something abrupt, for which an explanation can be found.

I'm not putting forward any particular hypothesis, but i wonde what happened - abruptly - to all those people in villages who were used to performing St George plays?

Anyone got any ideas? hypotheses? explanations?

See, anyone can do it.

:-)
Ian


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: greg stephens
Date: 23 Jul 02 - 05:21 PM

Basically, what I would like to hear from the Malcolm Douglas school of thought is some explanation of why and how a death-and-resurrection custom could spring from nowhere some time in the 18th century. And suddenly become incredibly widespread and deeply rooted. I'm not saying that couldn't have happened, but I think we need to hear the theory behind what seems to me a thoroughly unlikely hypothesis. Malcolm, you've read all the latest stuff and the rest of us obviously haven't. Give us a precis, if you've got a minute.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: greg stephens
Date: 23 Jul 02 - 05:39 PM

By the way,I find nothing in the Pete Millington aryicle to support the robust stand taken by Maloclm Douglas and GUEST against the old-pagan-custom school (in which group I would put myself). Pete Millington's attention is more or less axclusively directed at the origins of the Hero Combat in its present form(rhyming couplets, specific characters etc). He has little or nothing to say about the remarkably widespread other forms of Death and Resurrection/Combat performances,whose existence is what leads the rest of us to believe that we have here a practise of very long standing indeed.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 23 Jul 02 - 05:54 PM

"Events are best shown up in written sources when they contravene custom or legislation."

I'd have thought the lads who'd have gone in for persecuting Mummers would have been the Seventeenth Century Commonwealth Puritans. Along with Maypole Dancing, and plays generally and so forth. If they didn't go after the Mummers along with the mince pies, it goes against the idea there was much of that sort of thing going on.

On the other hand a bit earlier Bottom and his mates in a Midsummer Night's Dream do seem an awful lot like the kind of people who go out Mumming in later times. And the idea that bunches of mates having a laugh and getting a few drinks by dressing up and putting on a play for the gentry seems likely enough at most periods.

I suppose it comes down to whether the central defining thing about Mumming is the tradition of the text, or the tradition of the activity.

It's rather as if we were arguing about Christmas Carols, and some of us were pointing out that the actual carols are generally fairly recent, and others were arguing that the idea of singing at Christmas is a lot older. Both would in fact be right.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Herga Kitty
Date: 23 Jul 02 - 06:25 PM

I agree with Mr McGrath re the mechanicals in MND. I haven't studied all the threads, but if I remember my A-level history correctly (and I may not because it was a long time ago), professional, secular, play-acting only developed in England from the 16th century onwards. Before that it would have been mystery and other plays eg on classical themes performed by amateurs for local audiences for special occasions. I can't believe that Shakespeare dreamt up Peter Quince's production of Pyramus and Thisbe out of pure imagination.

I also side with the view that it's the activity rather than the text that is the essence of Mummers' plays. The Herga Mummers certainly ad lib from year to year - partly because of failing memory but also to incorporate current topical references.

Kitty


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Dicho (Frank Staplin)
Date: 23 Jul 02 - 06:35 PM

Greg, I wish I had some of the references I once had. The Germans and Spanish did a bit of mumming in the Middle Ages. These plays were based on biblical events. The origin I don't know. The Spaniards had local secular plays later, the earliest I know concern the expulsion of the Moors in 1492, and earlier in some more northerly regions of Spain. These plays came across the water are are still performed in villages in New Mexico (they arrived with the first colonists in 1580-1600); the performers are called Matachines.
In German classes we used to perform "Jedermann," a mystery play which had its origin in the Middle Ages.
The only records I know from England are 14th century; Henry the Eighth banned the practice (Malcolm would say that the ban was against disguises).

I agree that the usual performance in England is much later, since key characters such as the doctor are from the Venetian Commedia delle' Arté of Renaissance times (may have an earlier tradition in the Italian peninsula- I don't know).


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull
Date: 23 Jul 02 - 08:47 PM

Thanks eberybody, espeshely Masato , if any body else wants to know, then Masatos link "ThevEnglish Mummers play Links" is very good.Thanks again.john


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 23 Jul 02 - 10:43 PM

Greg; when you say "the remarkably widespread other forms of Death and Resurrection/Combat performances", do you mean in Britain or elsewhere? There's a significant distinction, and if I'm to continue as Devil's Advocate I don't want to waste your time or mine addressing the wrong point.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: greg stephens
Date: 24 Jul 02 - 02:18 AM

I mean in Britain and elsewhere.eg Hobby Horse England, folk plays Balkans, animal disguise performances central Asia. I find it perfectly all right including geograpically and temporally widespread examples....the widespread nature of eg Indo European Languages(Dingle to Calcutta) and other cultural connections suggest to me very widespread links over thousands of years.If people from Kidderminster to Kabul use versions of the same language and the same agricultural tools, I don't find it surprising if the cultures both contain vestiges of similar centrally important customs associated with ensuring successful agriculture.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: greg stephens
Date: 24 Jul 02 - 04:56 AM

Rereding this thread, I find McGrath doing his usual good job of oil on troubled waters. He says:
"It's rather as if we were arguing about Christmas carols, and some of us were pointing out that the actual carols are generally fairly recent, and others were arguig that the idea of singing at Christmas is a lot older.Both would in fact be right".

Well, I disagree, McGrath, there is a ral fundamental difference in viewpoint here. If Malcolm Douglas and confined themselves to saying "Mumming plays in their present form can't be dated early than the 18th century" I wouldn't presume to disagree,but they go much further than that. For example:

GUEST: "quite why people insist on inventing "pagan origins" for songs, rhymes, customs etc is beyond me:

Malcolm Douglas: "The Victorian preoccupation with the supposed pagan origins of traditional customs is largely discredited now, though still clung to by many romantics"

In which case, count me among the romantics. Which does of course put me in some strange company! Any one familiar with the work of the splendidly eccentric Lancaster poet Norman Iles?He devoted his life to recreating the "originals" of wellknown carols, plus "Hal an Tow" etcetc, putting back all the sex, pagan practises etc that the wicked Christians had censoered out. With memorably awful results..


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST,Fred Miller
Date: 24 Jul 02 - 10:13 AM

My own interest in mummer's play's is long gone, but I'm following this in admiration of the sheer scholarship of the participants. What may also may be interesting is the evolution of the value of originality, for the old sense of which some writers did actually invent antique fictional antecedents to give credibilty to their own inventions. But originality as a value later came to mean the opposite. If people do invent an origin, sometimes, pagan or whatever, perhaps it's to gain a gloss of the former idea of Originality, to stress a timeless interest and to relegate say, particular religious values to a secondary role. But there may also exist an opposite desire to stress uniqueness in particular connection with a cultural or religious value. Reminds me of the patterns of likenesses in Hamlet, where sometimes the differences matter more to some than others.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: IanC
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 07:52 AM

I've recently been spending a little time on a comparison of the Mummers Play with other dramatic forms.

As a sideline to this research, I spent a little more time looking at Church Ales, Ridings and Pageants from the 13th - 17th Centuries. As a result of this, I've discovered that over half the "pageants" had words to be spoken by the characters and many of them were in fact plays.

One pageant in particular attracted my attention. Here's a summary from WEBB, JOHN J. "The Guilds of Dublin" (London: Ernest Benn, 1929), pp90-92.

Dublin, 1498 A "Chain Book" describes a St. George's day pageant, with the following cast:

George (on horseback)
Emperor
2 doctors
Empress
2 knights
2 maidens
Dragon (with "a mayd well aparelled to lead the dragon")
4 attendants (carrying props for the various characters)
4 trumpeters
King and Queen of Dele, with attendants


The pageant was also shown on Corpus Christi (about a month or so later). There is no evidence to suggest that this was a play, but the cast of characters, including in particular two doctors, may be felt to be more than a little suggestive of the influence of an existing tradition. Why are doctors an important part of this pageant? Is somebody likely to be hurt?

;-)
Ian


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST,Penny S. (elsewhere)
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 12:16 PM

I went on a trip to Austria some time back, and part of the entertainment was a folk dance group at a hostelry. Leather shorts, slapping, general mucking about and licenced laddishness. But they were accompanied by a troupe of, for want of a better word, mummers. A fake female, in a wide skirt, with some sort of shaped object for hitting people; a fool, and other characters, some in black-face, some masked (I think the masks may have been black, rather than face paint). There was a deal of leering at the females in the audience, and attempts at kissing. The overall feel of the thing was certainly not the triumph of light over dark, but quite grim. In Innsbruck museum, there were some old costumes. The mask faces were very gargoyle-like. Both the museum images, and the performance were a bit disturbing. A number of costumes, and smaller dolls of the characters, used corn - what do you call the sheaths of maize cobs? - in their construction, which argues against antiquity.
However, they did seem to be related to parts of tradition here in the UK. It looks unlikely that traditions were exchanged during recent wars, or indeed Marlborough's essays into Higher Germany, so it seems that there could be some common origin further back than that.
I don't know if that's any help - perhaps someone knows more about that tradition.
Penny


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 01:58 PM

Nickp must be referring to the Philadelphia Mummers Parade. Not as edifying as a play but certainly something to see. Oh! Dem golden slippers! Check it out.
http://mummers.com/


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Art Thieme
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 03:32 PM

George and Gerry Armstrong, Ted and Marsha Johnson, Fleming Brown, Dave Prine (I think) --- and one or two others used to do their Mummer's Play at the Old Town School Of FOLK MUSIC in Chicago almost every Christmas. George, with his cardboard sword, played St.George----Gerry wore an amazing ballet dancer belly dancer outfit that, to this day, is all I remember about the whole thing except that George looked really dumb 'cause he insisted on doing the play while wearing his kilt that he'd worn earlier when playing his bagpipes.

Unique memories, these !!

Art Thieme


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST,Bill
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 07:17 PM

I once knew a morris side that used to do mummers plays at Xmas time but I think that was because the foreman liked to dress up as a fairy
Bill(the sound)


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Hester
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 09:16 PM

Enjoyed the Peter Millington article, but I found it a bit odd that he mentioned the prominence of the Beelzebub character among the supernumeraries without also mentioning that this one aspect of the Mummer's Play at least does seem to have a pagan origin that even hard-core sceptics like Ronald Hutton acknowledge:

>>>For the present writer, the most remarkable of the former remains 'Beelzebub', with his club and pan. As Chambers noted, medieval stage devils carried pitchforks, not these accoutrements. In 1929 the archaeologist Stuart Piggott suggested that he was so like the celebrated prehistoric hill-carving of the Cerne Abbas Giant that he was surely a personification of an ancient deity, a remark which inevitably found an enthusiastic reception in the Folk-Lore Society of the time. The particular comparison no longer works, because there is now considerable doubt as to whether the Giant itself is older than the late seventeenth century. Piggott's instinct was, however, a sound one, because Beelzebub does look amazingly like the ancient Celtic god-form venerated in Gaul under the name of Sucellus and in Ireland as the Daghda, a male figure carrying a club and a pot or cauldron. This sort of deity does not, however, seem to have been popular in ancient Britain, and how this image manages to leap-frog over a thousand years to turn up in eighteenth-century England is a real puzzle; unless, of course, the date of the 1685 Cork play is correct and he really is the Daghda, given a devil's name and trans- planted from Irish folklore to English folk-drama via Munster. All told, the collapse of the theory of pagan origins has created more problems that it has solved in the quest for the origins of the Mummers' Play.<<< (_Stations of the Sun_ pp. 78-79)

Also, I think it was Ian who asked what present-day performers of the plays believe them to mean. Hutton addressed this question to one of the Waterly Bottom Mummers:

"I asked one of them if he thought that his play was pagan. He replied that, whether it was ancient or not, it was certainly pagan in spirit, for nothing could be less Christian than the resurrec- tion from death of a braggart, performed by a quack armed with a medicine bottle. I asked him if he regarded it as a ritual. He answered that anything becomes a ritual if you have to do it ten times in a single night. It seemed to me then that the romantic Edwardian picture of the natural wisdom of the countryman, so often rightly derided as a cultural artefact, might not at times be so far from the truth." (Ibid, p. 80)

Indeed, the plays do not need to be dated back to the pre-Christian era to have pagan meaning and connotations. Certain pagan sensibilities remained and became enmeshed with Christian belief and custom during the Middle Ages and persisted into modern times.

That said, it also seems that the plays likely pre-date any written records of them. The nonsensical tone and language of the earliest texts suggest a degradation through long-standing oral transmission. That we have no "evidence" of such plays before the chapbooks versions is not surprising, however, as plebeian folk customs would not have been recorded UNLESS they happened to come to the attention and interest of the "scribbling" classes of the time.

And although I'm a structuralist, not a Jungian, I'm looking forward to reading the Jungian analysis to which Ian posted a link.

And Pavane, is this the play from Wales that you took part in:

Crwmpyn John

If so, can you provide any additional information about its specific history and origins?

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: MAG
Date: 15 Nov 02 - 09:33 PM

Art, the last time (many years ago, now) that I saw the Mummer's Play at OTSFM, Katie Early played the King's daughter -- I hope Jenny   or Becky saved the dragon costume.


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Hester
Date: 20 Nov 02 - 09:39 AM

Just read the Jungian analysis that Ian pointed out, "The English Mummers as Manifestations of the Social Self" by Christine Herold .

And while I find Jungian analysis to be too focused on the psyche of the individual to be a satisfying approach to communally produced socio-cultural phenomena, still, I believe that Herold's identification of the play characters as mythic types is very helpful in decoding the meaning of these plays.

I'm also particularly intrigued by an idea buried in the footnotes, that the Western European mummer's plays descend from the customs of the Roman Saturnalia, via Greek mumming plays in the 13th century.

Saturnalian customs of midwinter misrule have been very robust and enduring. Indeed, the Normans introduced the Winter Lord of Misrule into the English royal court, and this "King of the Bean" was well-documented in the English universities in the late medieval and early modern period. Even the divinatory charms still baked into British Xmas cakes in the 20th century (ring for marriage, button for batchelor, thimble for spinster, etc.) are an elaboration of the "bean lottery" of the Saturnalia.

Also, thinking about the motif of cross-dressing and midwinter misrule, does anyone know of a historical link between these folk plays and the 19th century professional Xmas pantomimes? If so, could you suggest sources for further reading on the topic?

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: IanC
Date: 20 Nov 02 - 09:45 AM

Hester

Panto (along with Punch & Judy) almost certainly seems to have sprung from the Italian Commedia Dell' Arte, linked - in the case of pantomime - with nursery rhymes and childrens' stories. Mummers plays were also influenced by this form (though I'm currently putting together a rather long piece to show that it wasn't the inspiration for mummers plays). The similarity of "feel" probably comes from this common influence.

:-)
Ian


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: *#1 PEASANT*
Date: 20 Nov 02 - 09:53 AM

I have a mummers play in my new book!
Such plays were generally part of most door to door activities such as wassail...
Greetings to one and all!

Those who enjoy the holiday traditions may enjoy this!
Do the Wassail Conrad Jay Bladey, Hutman Productions 2002.Do the Wassail in
the Hall, Do the Wassail Door to Door, Do the Wassail with a Mumming Play.
Do the Wassail with a bowl and do the Wassail with song. Do it with
BONFIRES do it with the oxen or in the apple groves. Do it in the kitchen
or all over the town... A spectacular illustrated guide to all things
Wassail. All you need to make a perfect celebration. Recipes, traditions,
dramatic plays, sayings, songs, and celebrations. Well researched and
authentic. The only work of its kind. Great Hymnal for that holiday
gathering.
See further informtaion at:
http://www.geocities.com/artcars/wasspub.html
Ok maybe not spectacular but certainly very useful....
Conrad Bladey


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Hester
Date: 21 Nov 02 - 11:50 AM

Hi, Ian:

Thanks for that. Will you be publishing your piece on the Mumming Play and its connection (or lack thereof) to the Commedia Dell'Arte? I'd be interested to read it.

Speaking of the Commedia Dell' Arte, do you have any information on the origin of the Harlequin figure? In _Santa Claus: Last of the Wild Men_, Phyllis Seifkert suggests the Harlequin draws upon imagery of the medieval wildman figure (as she claims Santa and Robin Hood also do). Her arguments are not paricularly compelling, though. I wonder if the Harlequin is related in some way to the Saturnalian Lord of Misrule?

And speaking of Punch and Judy, Brewer in his _Dictionary of Phrase and Fable_, mentions but rejects an interesting folk etymology for the name of this puppet play:

"The most popular derivation of Punch and Judy is _Pontius cum Judæis_ (Matt. xxvii. 19), an old mystery play of _Pontius Pilate and the Jews_; but the Italian policinello seems to be from pollice, a thumb (Tom-thumb figures), and our Punch is from paunch."

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: IanC
Date: 21 Nov 02 - 12:30 PM

Hester

I have read, though not yet entirely verified to my satisfaction, that the Harlequin costume of coloured diamonds originated in the rag costume (still used by some mummers), being a stylised version.

If that's so, some linking of Harlequin with the mediaeval figure may well be in order. You have to remember that Commedia Dell' Arte is very stylised though, and undoubtedly Harlequin came from more than one original stereotype, so I wouldn't read too much into the connection.

As regards Punch, earlier versions of the show call him Punchinello and the history is quite well documented. Here's one of the very good history pages on the web. Here's another one ...

:-)
Ian


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: michaelr
Date: 21 Nov 02 - 09:37 PM

There is a definite Germanic connection with Mummer's plays, in that the German word "Mumme" means a (scary) mask, and "Mummen-schanz" (the second part, according to my venerable dictionary, from the French "chance") is a traditional masked play, much like what was witnessed by Penny S. in Austria.

Cheers,
Michael


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Hester
Date: 22 Nov 02 - 04:13 PM

In a bibliography on traditional Persian dance, I found a vague reference to:

"Winter rituals, not unlike European mumming, that include dance".

Does anyone know anything about the "mumming" customs in Iran?

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?
From: IanC
Date: 15 Jul 03 - 12:42 PM

Just to start a hare again, here's an essay associated with the REED project which helps us a little with why medieval drama isn't always easy to find. This is the bit I like ...

The Toronto project Records of Early English Drama (begun in 1977, ten volumes so far, out of a projected thirty-five) shows, however, that the surviving text corpus is completely unrepresentative of what was actually going on. After REED, every history of early English theater will have to be re-written. Between 1400 and 1650, virtually every town in Great Britain, and notably southern communities, had religious and folk festival theater of some kind. The same is true for continental Europe and Germany. Wherever archival records from this period survive, you will, if you care to look, find references to theater. The plays REED so richly documents for England were not cycles, but, as on the continent, single plays (Nativity, Ephiphany, Passion, Easter, Pentecost, Saint, May, Robin Hood, tournament, dance plays), not movable in performance, but stationary (scaffolds in open places). Between 1400 and 1650, theater was a church and civic mass medium of extraordinary importance. Movies play a similar role in our society. Much of the culture of these centuries (town, court, university) is theatrical. We only realized this when we started looking at unpublished archival sources.

And here's an interesting bit of a Doctor's speech from a play circa 1475.

All manar off men yt haue any syknes
To Mast Brentberecly loke that yow redresse
What dysease or syknesse that ever ye haue
He wyll nev leve yow tyll ye be i yow graue
Who hat ye canker ye collyke or ye laxe
The tercyan ye quartan or ye brynnyng axs
For wormys for gnawyg gryndyg i ye wombe or i ye boldyro
All man red eyn bleryd eyn & ye mydgrym also
For hedache bonache & therto ye tothache
The colt-evyll and the brostyn men he wyll undertak
All tho yt ye poose ye sneke or ye tyseke
Thowh a ma wre ryght heyle he cowd soone make hym sek
Inquyre to ye colkote for ther ys hys loggyng
A lytell besyde Babwell Myll yf ye wyll haue undstodyg


I'm getting near the first of a series of articles about origins of the mummers play, so watch this space ...

:-)


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: LadyJean
Date: 16 Jul 03 - 12:28 AM

I produced a mummer's play, "The Fool and his Sons" at an S.C.A. event several years ago. In it a king courts a queen, the sons do a sword dance, and the fool acts like a fool. There is no St. George or Turkish Knight, no fighting, and no ressurrection. Just a lot of macho posturing.
The Paxton letters, fifteenth century correspondence, describe something like a mummer's play. Beatrix Potter describes children mumming in turn of the century England at Easter time.


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: IanC
Date: 16 Jul 03 - 04:17 AM

LadyJean

The Paston letters don't actually describe a mummers play (though a manuscript, including part of a script of Robin Hood and The Sherrif of Nottingham, dated 1475, has been associated with John Paston). There is an excerpt which states that a servant was retained for playing in the Robin Hood and St George plays. Here 'tis.

[16 April 1473]
To John Paston Esquer in Norffolk
[...]
No mor, but I have ben and ame troblyd with myn over large and curteys delyng with my servants, and now with ther onkynd nesse; Plattyng, yowr men wolde thys daye byd me ffar well to to morrow at Dover, notwithstandyng Thryston yowr other man is ffrom me, and John Myryell, and W. Woode whyche promysed yow and Dawbeney, God have hys sowle, at Castre, that iff ye wolde take hym in to be ageyn with me, that then he wold never goo ffro me, and ther uppon I have kepyd hym thys iij. yer to pleye Seynt Jorge and Robyn Hod and the Shryff off Notyngham, and now when I wolde have good horse he is goon into Bernysdale, and I withowt a keeper.

Wryten at Canterburye, to Caleys warde on Tewesday and happe be, uppon Good Frydaye the xvj. daye off Apryll, Anno E. iiijti xiijo

Yowr J.P., K.

[...]


John Paston was a bit of a joker too, as the description of his servant as "goon into bernysdale" is obviously a quote from the Robin Hood play!

:-)


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: The Shambles
Date: 16 Jul 03 - 06:04 AM

The past of course is very interesting but possibly a word on the threats presented to the present and future of the custom - would be timely?

Our new Licensing Act does have a specific exemption for performance of Morris, or dancing of a like kind and music as an integral part of that performance - but it would appear to me that the threat to mumming plays still exists?

Mummers play stopped Cerne Abbas


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Doktor Doktor
Date: 16 Jul 03 - 06:59 AM

Sure does

What we're doing this Friday evening at the Gibberd Garden in Harlow will be illegal next year unless all manner of hurdles are jumped. Given the amazing collection of beaurocratic minds at the Town Hall I rather doubt that there will be much in the way of al fresco outdoor entertainments in future .......


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull
Date: 29 Oct 03 - 08:57 PM

There was a very intersting article about mummers plays on Radio 4 this week, not sure exactly what the programme was called, but i think it is called "The History Hour", or something very similar, it was on on monday afternoon, you can hear it on the BBC Radio 4 website, just click the listen again thing.


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST,AR282
Date: 29 Oct 03 - 10:41 PM

Professor Dale Cockrell has written a book entitled "Demons of Disorder" in which he traces blackface minstrelsy in part back to the mumming plays.

I also see a great resemblance between mumming plays and the Masonic 3rd Degree ritual called "The Murder of Hiram Abiff."


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: LadyJean
Date: 29 Oct 03 - 11:48 PM

I believe the Paxton letters also mention a play of St. George and the Dragon.
I had a dozen women and three men, for a play with 14 male roles, and one female.
I bought a lot of cheesey looking fake mustaches, and had the one female role played by a man. It may not have been authentic, but it worked.


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: The Shambles
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 02:16 AM

Click here for the BBC site where you can hear the item.

The mumming piece is about two thirds through - after the bit about
overarm/underarm bowling in cricket. It is a short history of mumming and makes no reference to its treatment under current or future legislation but does mention past legal attempts to ban the activity.


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: mouldy
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 02:52 AM

The play performed in some areas of the East Midlands (Cropwell Bishop, and Farnsfield, Notts, for example) was one with Bold Tom as the narrator, his entrance followed by the Recruiting Sergeant, Young Man (who enlists), his lady, Farmer's Man, Sankey Benny (pedlar), Dame Jane (with illegitimate child, said to be Bold Tom's), and then Beelzebub, who challenges anybody who will stand before him and fight. Dame Jane obliges and is clubbed to the ground. Enter the Doctor, etc.

Now part of this play has a definite point of origin (Recruiting Sergeant), but who can say that it wasn't a "updating" of an earlier form: the Recruiting Sergeant, one of the first figures to enter, and the Young Man and the Lady become mere incidental characters after they have recited their verses and the young man is enlisted. I suspect that most of the characters, except the Doctor and Beelzebub, are relatively recent "tweakings" from the lines they speak, but they could have also been contemporary updates from the time of the Recruiting Sergeant. Audiences always react well to things they can relate to, and many performances have topical additions to the script.

On the other hand, it could have been written and first performed in the last couple of hundred years!

My husband used to be in the group that performs this play around Calverton, Notts. He made a wonderful entrance in clog-irons on a sloping tiled floor one year: "In comes I, the farmer's man..." CRASH! Trouble was, it went down so well he had to do a fall at every subsequent performance that year.

Andrea


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: AggieD
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 07:00 AM

And then of course there's the infamous & very contemporary Bedfordshire Lace 'Dadders Play', the total antidote to all things traditionally male! :)

GUEST AR282, my husband can see no similarity to Mumming & any degree whatsoever of Freemasonry, which is based on a symbolic representation of Biblical Stories. He would also like to know how you come to that conclusion. There are however plenty of links between Freemasonry & traditional folk music & songs, eg 'The Mason's Apron', & some folk tunes are used in the ceremonies & celebrations.


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST,AR282
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 12:06 PM

The basic mumming play involved a hero, a villain, a woman and a healer. The hero and villain vie for the hand of the woman and end up battling one another. The villain slays the hero. Then all is thought to be lost. Then the healer shows up and resurrects the hero and the villain is vanquished.

In the 3rd Degree story, 3 craftsmen try to extort the Master's Word from Hiram Abiff--the master builder of Solomon's Temple. When their attempts to extort the Word fail, the 3 craftsmen kill him and bury his body. Upon locating his grave, Solomon pulls Hiram's body up using the Lion's Paw grip and the secret word is then divulged via the 5 points of fellowship. The 3 craftsmen are executed and Hiram lives on in the new initiate.

So, in both stories, you have a villain who wants something from the hero. They battle, the hero is slain, then he is raised up.

Now I'm not saying, mind you, that the 3rd Degree descended from mumming plays necessarily. I am saying there are definite similarities and so at least have their genesis in the same legend.

What legend? The age-old legend that is repeated from Ancient Egypt to Sumeria to Ancient India to Scandinavia to Greece to Christianity. The story of the dying god. Christianity is nothing new--same old story with a new location and new characters playing the same old roles.

It goes back ultimately to astronomy. The mumming villain usually wore a darkened face. He represents what all such villains do--darkness. In this case, that darkness is that which falls starting at the autumnal equinox after which the days get shorter, i.e. the sun is "slain" by a "dark giant" (yes, that includes David and Goliath). After the passing of the winter solstice, however, the sun is "resurrected" and so the days grow longer and light returns.

The problem with masonry acting out supposedly biblical stories occurs when we try to locate this story of the slaying of Hiram Abiff in the bible. Can you find it? The ritual uses biblical characters but it cannot be the reenactment of a biblical story. But the plot of the story can be found in Christianity because it is the story of Jesus Christ. But, as stated, the same plot is found in many other religions--many of them substantially pre-dating Christianity.

I would say that the mumming play and the 3rd deree ritual both descend from mystery plays such as those popular among the Greeks at one time.


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 01:18 PM

The unifying thread is that in theatre a good plot is often revised and recast. Parallel developments occur; seeking for "the one true origin" ends in fruitless speculation.


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST,AR282
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 01:37 PM

Yes, the plot turns up over and over again in the most disparate places. Often, it is so disparate that people are positive that one could not be connected to the other.

I laugh when I hear kids talking about how great "8 Mile" the Eminem movie is. I became curious, so I watched it when it came out on cable. It's the movie "Crossroads" all over again!!! Watch both and pay close attention to the endings of each. And, really, you find the same plot redone in different garb in "White Men Can't Jump". This new tv show I keep seeing trailers for--"Skin"--is just Romeo and Juliet all over again.

Then again, it's difficult to see, on the face it, any connection between mumming plays and blackface minstrelsy. Read Professor Cockrell's excellent book and any doubt will be removed. He does a very thorough job of showing the connection. Chris Ware, a ragtime/minstrelsy enthusiast in Chicago, then produced a spate of 19th century minstrel photos and old postcards with connections so close to the mumming play that, if any doubt might remain after reading Cockrell's book, there could be little doubt of the connection after examining Mr. Ware's photo exhibit.


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: AggieD
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 01:39 PM

The husband is of course not allowed to divulge the secret depths of Freemasonry to his little wifey, but he informs me that he can see no resemblance between Freemasonry & mumming, although if he admitted to any, then I would pull his leg about it, just as he has mine about cavorting about wearing strange costume & Morris dancing all these years.

As GuestQ says, a good plot will always be used down the centuries, & will be adapted by each different culture. Many ancient cultures have some type of revival ceremony.

I'm afraid that personally I don't like to over analyse any traditional acts, as I think we could be in danger of simply making them museum & study pieces rather than living breathing customs.


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST,AR282
Date: 30 Oct 03 - 01:53 PM

There's nothing secret about the Hiram Abiff story. It can be found on the internet and in any number of books on Freemasonry. I encourage any and all to examine both the mumming play plot and the Hiram Abiff plot and draw their own conclusions regarding similarities.


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Rt Revd Sir jOhn from Hull
Date: 12 Dec 04 - 03:57 AM


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST,Anne Croucher
Date: 12 Dec 04 - 08:07 PM

My father's father used to recite 'In comes I little devil doubt, no matter how you try you can not cast me out'

and lots more - there seemed to be a larger and a lesser devil, the larger one was armed - 'in my hand a frying pan', then I think it was 'on my head a rusty pail' - and there was a broomstick which at times was ridden like a hobby horse, and the threat 'I'll sweep you all about' if money 'give us a penny, or an 'aipenny will do' was not forthcoming.

Grandad lived in Derbyshire - in the village of Youlgreave in the 1920s as my Dad attended, or not, the village school. It might have been there, or when Grandad was a lad. He was very small - about 4ft 6inches as an adult - it is genetic I think - my sister is under 5 ft. My Dad and brother had/have small feet and hands.

Of course when he was around I was not in the least interested in finding out what all the nonsense was about - he went through it so often I can still recall snatches, even though it was over 40 years ago I can see him now going through all the actions and the words - 'with my big head and little wit'

anyone recognise the source of the play and the characters?

Anne


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: IanC
Date: 13 Dec 04 - 09:03 AM

Anne

More or less any "hero combat" style mummers play.

Try looking at the collection of 220 scripts here.

:-)


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST,pulchritude
Date: 19 Feb 05 - 08:41 PM

Wooooooow


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: GUEST,Anne Croucher
Date: 20 Feb 05 - 12:06 PM

Thanks for the link - the character Grandad played was Devil doubt, which appears in one of the Derbyshire plays, and there are similar lines, but not the exact ones - I am assuming that his memory was a true one - he could recall the exact same words every time, in the same timing and with gestures.

I have not been through all of them, and there seems to be no index of characters, so it is a matter of trawling through all of them - as I am not sure where some of the places are.

There must be quite a few people who remember that their grandparents had knowledge they could easily have aquired, and discover too late that it was significant -

Anne


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Subject: Folklore: Mummers Plays
From: GUEST,Rej Bullhorn
Date: 05 Feb 07 - 05:10 PM

Morris Federation members, the Knaresborough Mummers launched their new website in January this year. Rather than attempting to making sense of the complex history of Mumming, the website concentrates on the history of the team, how they got together and how they developed their style of performance over their 32 year existence. Team members John Burrell and Ted Dodsworth have compiled the extensive archive of plays, the origins and photographs of different versions throughout the life of the team, together with statistics of the many performers who have been members down the years. John, a founder member of the team, is hoping this might jog a few memories and encourage people to look in their own photographic collections for pictures of the team, particularly in the early years.

The Christmas Blue Stots tours this year raised a record collection for local charities and among beneficiaries this year will be the English Folk Dance and Song Society in memory of Nigel Hudleston, who did an enormous amount of work with his wife, collecting folk traditions, including texts of Blue Stots performances in the area.

The website is at   www.knaresboroughmummers.org.uk   If you have any material which you think might be of interest to the team, contact John Burrell on 01423 566112 or email:   jburrel1@hotmail.co.uk


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Mummers Plays
From: Flash Company
Date: 06 Feb 07 - 10:45 AM

Bob Morton and The Union Folk used to do a version which I believe originated from Alderley Edge in Cheshire, The basic Saint (King) George and the Turkish Knight story line. As I recall, Frank was the narrator, Kenny was King George, Steve was The Turkish Knight, Bob was The Doctor and Martin was Father Chris-me-as.
Happy Days

FC


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Mummers Plays
From: Stu
Date: 06 Feb 07 - 10:56 AM

The Alderley Edge Mummers still perform in the Macclesfield area in January.

For the second time in two years they came to The Harrington Arms in Gawsworth where our ancient and fine session is still going strong despite the fact the pub has changed hands in the past few months (the new licencees seem keen for the music to continue, so let's hope they stay true to their word).

It's always a joy to see the mummers when they come around (they finish up in most excellent Waters Green Tavern in town). They are fine players and Bold Slasher's death scene is almost worthy of a Shakepeare play.

Long may they continue!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Mummers Plays
From: Scrump
Date: 06 Feb 07 - 11:10 AM

Round our way, the Brafront Guisers do a more or less traditional Mummers play. (No I don't know how they got their name! Often wondered!)


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: Joe Offer
Date: 26 Dec 15 - 05:23 PM

Malcolm mentions the "Traditional Drama Research Group" above, but the link he gave is dead.

I found a "Folk Play Research Group" at http://www.folkplay.info/. Checking the old link at archive.org, it's clear the new link is the same organization, with a slight name change. It's a good Website to spend some time with.

-Joe-
Up above, DMcG gave a definition of a Mummer's Play:
    Thread #49704   Message #751442
    Posted By: DMcG
    20-Jul-02 - 01:52 AM
    Thread Name: What's a Mummers Play?
    Subject: RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play?

    A mummer's play is a traditional play, usually performed at either Easter or Christmas (but these days at any opportunity!) It has a cast consisting of most of the following and perhaps a few more

    - St George
    - A Turkish Knight
    - A Doctor
    - A fool
    - A 'wife' which is a man dressed as a woman

    The action is usually a short speech by each character:

    In comes I, St George the hero bold
    With my bloody spear I gained a thousand pounds in gold
    I fought the firey dragon and brought him to the slaughter
    And by that means I won the Queen of Egypt's daughter

    then a fight bewteen St George and the Turkish Knight during which St George gets killed. The doctor is called and brings him back to life by his medicine:

    I can cure the itch, the stitch, the palsy and the gout
    All aches within and pains without

    .. is a typical sort of declaration. Once St George is resurrected, all sing. The song "Come Write me Down (The Wedding Song)" is from a mummer's play and is the wedding between the fool and the wife.

    There is a lot of variation, but the basic structure is pretty common


That sounds like a perfect description of the annual (chiefly Mudcat) Mummer's Play at the FSGW Getaway, produced by the inimitable Jacqui Morse. Do you mean to tell me that Jacqui's giving us the Real Thing? It's always fun, but I had no idea it was authentic.
There's a database of play scripts at http://www.folkplay.info/Texts.htm. Anybody have any favorite scripts they'd like to post here. Jacqui, where'd you get your script from?

-Joe-


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Subject: RE: What's a Mummers Play?
From: FreddyHeadey
Date: 26 Dec 15 - 07:39 PM

I don't see it above so it might be worth mentioning this page for info and current dates(though I've noticed several groups don't always log their diary dates here)



http://www.mastermummers.org/index.htm


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Subject: ADD: The Overton Mummers' Play
From: Joe Offer
Date: 27 Dec 15 - 12:22 AM

My wife and I were talking about mummers' plays this afternoon, and I thought it might be nice to have a thread with a collection of scripts for mummers' plays. This one is from The Winter Solstice, a book by John Matthews.

THE OVERTON MUMMERS' PLAY
A TALE OF OLD CHRISTMAS

Dramatis Personae
FATHER CHRISTMAS
KING GEORGE
TURKISH KNIGHT
(a brave fellow)
THE DOCTOR
(a quack)
TWING TWANG
(a fool)




(ENTER FATHER CHRISTMAS)

FATHER CHRISTMAS
In comes I, old Father Christmas
Welcome or welcome not,
I hope old Father Christmas
Will never be forgot.

TWING TWANG
I hope he won't be here.

FATHER CHRISTMAS
Christmas comes but once a year
When it does it brings good cheer;
With a pocket full of money
And a cellar full of beer.
Roast beef plum pudding and mince pie.
Who likes them better than I?

TWING TWANG
I do!


FATHER CHRISTMAS
I don't know that you do my little fella.
But I want room, acres of room,
For after me comes King George, with all his noble train.
In this room there shall soon be a battle
More dreadful than ever was known,
Betwixt King George and the Turkish Knight.
Enter in King George, and boldly clear the way,
For old Father Christmas has only got
A short time for to stay.

(ENTER KING GEORGE)

KING GEORGE
In comes I, King George, so bold, so grand.
I do appear, with my old tribes and Britons
By my side. I am come to close this year.
Here is England's rights, here England's wrongs,

Here's England's admirations.
When I pull out my old trusty rapier,
Is there a man before me can stand
That I can't knock him down
With my created hand?

(ENTER TURKISH KNIGHT)

TURKISH KNIGHT
In comes I, the Turkish Knight,
Just come from Turkey Land old
England for to fight.
I'll fight thee King George,
That valiant man of courage bold,
Let the blood be never so hot
I'll shortly draw it cold.

KING GEORGE
'Twas I that fought the fiery dragon
And brought him to his slaughter,
And by that fight I hope to win
The Queen of Egypt's daughter.
If any man dare to enter this hall
I'll cut off his head and kick it about like a football!

(KING GEORGE AND THE TURKISH KNIGHT BATTLE AND THE TURKISH KNIGHT FALLS DEAD)

FATHER CHRISTMAS
King George, King George, what hast thou done?
Thou has ruined me by the killing of my son.
Oh, is there a Doctor to be found,
To heal this noble Turk a-bleeding on the ground?

(ENTER DOCTOR)

DOCTOR
Oh Yes, Oh Yes, there is a Doctor to be found
To cure this noble Turk a-bleeding on the ground.

FATHER CHRISTMAS
What can you cure, Doctor?

DOCTOR
I can cure the itch, the stitch, the palsy and the gout,
The raging pain within and the raging pain without.
If the devil's in a man, i'll fetch him out.
Give me an old woman, four score and ten,
With scarce a stump of a tooth in her head,
I will make her young and plump again.
More than this. If she falls downstairs and breaks her neck,
I'll settle and charge nothing for my fees.
Recollect I'm not like one of those bony quack doctors
Who runs from door to door telling a pack of lies,
I will shortly raise the dead before your eyes.

KING GEORGE
Where have you been learning all these things, Doctor?

DOCTOR
I've been to England, Ireland, Scotland and Dover,
I've traveled the wide world over.

KING GEORGE
What is your fee, Doctor?

DOCTOR
Ten guineas is my fee. Thee being a poor man,
Half of that I'll take of thee.

KING GEORGE (HANDING HIM SOME MONEY)
Take that and cure him.

DOCTOR
I've a little bottle in the waistband of my belt
Called "The Golden Frosty Drop"
A little to the eye, a little to the thigh,
A little to the string bone of the heart,
Rise up, thou noble Turk, and try to stand.
See the time of day.
After you've one, put out your tongue,
And let's hear what you can say.

(THE DOCTOR ADMINISTERS A LARGE DOSE OF HIS CONCOCTION,
AT WHICH THE TURKISH KNIGHT JUMPS UP ALIVE AGAIN.)

FATHER CHRISTMAS
Well done, my little man.
Thee aren't like those old quack doctors.
Thee does the work all right my lad.
Will thee have the money now
Or stop here till thee get's it?

TURKISH KNIGHT
Now see, King George, I've risen again.
How long have I been on that old floor?
I've been hurried and scurried,
I've been dragged from door to door.
Pick me up a stranger,
Knock me down a blow,
Wherever I'd have been if the ground hadn't caught me
I do not know.

SOMEONE THEN PARADES AROUND THE SPECTATORS WITH A BOX, AND THE COMPANY JOINS IN SINGING

ALL
Good Master and Mistress,
As you sit by the fire,
Remember us poor ploughboys
That run through mud and mire.
The mire it is deep,
And we travel far and near,
We will thank you for a Christmas Box
And a mug of your strong beer.


This version of the play was recorded by George Long in the village of Overton in Hampshire, England, around 1930, though it probably dates from around 1850 and in its original form as early at the twelfth century. It has been edited by John Matthews.


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