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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
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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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