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Mummers Play
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Mummers Play

There are two major branches to the tradition: 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. It is a highly symbolic enactment of religious significance.

Themes include: Saint George and the Dragon, Saint George and the Persian Knight (alternatively Turkish Knight), Old Father Abraham, Robin Hood, etc.

There is sometimes a horse character such as the Padstow hobby-horse in Cornwall or the Minehead Obby Oss in Somerset.

The plays generally involve a battle representing good against evil and usually feature a 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.

The origins of the plays are believed to be Pagan though very much Christianised in more recent centuries. This was part of an ongoing process ever since the first Christian missionaries arrived in the British Isles. The Christianisation of Britain and Ireland didn't always proceed by scorning the existing Celtic and Saxon traditions, but often by converting those traditions into Christian versions. The same pattern of converting existing forms to Christian ones was followed all over Europe. Thus the pagan festival of rebirth at the Winter Solstice became Christmas and the festival representing the death of old forms became All Hallows Eve (Halloween).

Christian Mystery Plays

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

See also

Wrenboys, Jester, Clown, Commedia dell'arte, Dadaism, Pantomime

External links

Mummers' Plays Proper

Mystery Plays