Mummers' Play or Mumming Play



  • A type of seasonal folk play that was widespread in Britain and Irelanduntil the early 20th century. Although it is doubtless related to the earliertradition of mumming or guising (see mummer), there is no evidence for the Mummers' Play proper before the mid 1700s. Theories that the play is of ancient pre-Christian origin are therefore dismissed by most modernscholars. The name may come from German Mumme, meaning mask.

    The play was performed in the open air or in private houses, usually at Christmas and other winter festivals. In England many plays featured St (or Sir, Prince, or King) George, a Crusader who is killed by a Turkish knight and subsequently resurrected by a quack doctor. On this basis, George is oftensaid to be a Christianized version of an ancient spirit of vegetation andfertility, although most scholars are now highly sceptical of such notions.

    Variants of the standard Hero-Combat play, as it is termed byfolklorists, include the Paper Boys' Play of Marshfield in Gloucestershire, in which the performers dress in rags or torn paper, and (in some of its forms) thePace-Egg Play of northwest England. Scottish plays of this kind often featured the hero Galatian or Golashans and the mummers were therefore known as goloshans. Other basic types are the Wooing Ceremony of the Midlands, in which the Fool woos a man in women's dress, and the Sword Play of northeast England, which may have evolved from a traditional sword dance.

    Mummers' plays are still performed at Christmas in some villagesin Britain and Ireland.