Mummers Play

From Academic Kids

There are two major branches to the tradition of the Mummers Play: Firstly the folk tradition of troupes of mummers performing street theatre and secondly the more formal Christian Mystery Plays.


Mummers' Plays

The Mummers Play is performed throughout the British Isles in different forms and, in England, is often associated with the Morris dance. Mumming plays can be traced back at least to the middle ages and were a traditional part of Christmas at the court of Edward III, as shown in a 14th Century manuscript, now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

In mummersí plays, the central incident is the killing and restoring to life of one of the characters. First, the characters are introduced in a series of short speeches in which each personage has his own introductory announcement; then comes the drama. The principal characters, presented in a wide variety of manner and style, are a Hero, his chief opponent and a quack Doctor; the defining feature of mumming plays is the Doctor, and the main purpose of the fight is to provide him with a patient to cure. The hero sometimes kills and sometimes is killed by his opponent; in either case, the doctor comes to restore the dead man to life. The name of the hero is almost always saint, king, or prince George; the chief opponent is divisible into two types: the Turkish knight, who sometimes has a black face, and a kind of capitano or blustering Bobadill. Themes include: Saint George and the Dragon, Saint George and the Persian Knight (alternatively Turkish Knight), Old Father Abraham (alternatively Father Christmas), Robin Hood, etc.

The plays generally involve a battle representing good against evil and usually feature the doctor who has a magic potion which is able to resuscitate the slain. Thus the plays contain the archetypes: duality and resurrection.

The performers are masked.

The term "mummer" is usually believed to come from the Middle English word "mum" which means "silent" (the plays were originally silent pantomimes), though some people have suggested a connection with mommo the Greek word for mask.

Curiously enough, Philadelphia has its own tradition of mummers marching on New Year's Day; they dress in elaborate costumes--often in drag--while the skits are sometimes based on current events.

Christian Mystery Plays

The Christianisation of the folk tradition did not cause the village and street performances to cease, but rather creates a second branch of the same tree. The church-sponsored cycles of mystery plays dramatised stories from the Bible for public enjoyment and learning. These include the Passion Play, which retold the story of the Crucifixion.

The province of Newfoundland, Canada, has a two-hundred-year long tradition of Mummering between Christmas and Jan. 6. In complete disquise the Mummers go from house to house to entertain and socialize. Often men dress as outsized women, but no one is supposed to be recognizable.

See also

Wrenboys, Jester, Clown, Commedia dell'arte, Dadaism, Pantomime, Mystery play, Philadelphia Mummers parade

External links

Mummers' Plays Proper

Mystery Plays


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