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Mumming

MummersMumming is an activity and the troupe of actors are the Mummers. Therefore there exists both Mumming plays and Mummers plays which are the same thing. Known since at least the 14th century, they are thought to be a part of a ceremony or celebration that also involved the Lord of Misrule, Sword Dances, Morris and related activities which now are isolated fragments.

They are seasonal plays enacted impromptu by itinerant players to a strict formula. Associated with the Christmas celebrations and once widespread. They are heavily associated with the Morris and Sword Dancing traditions.

Mummers plays are part of the oral tradition. There are no surviving written texts of any play although descriptions exist from the middle ages and many scripts have been written since.

Mummers plays are usually in rhyme (doggerel) and are quite brief. They typically depict a fight of good and evil (hero-combat) and a resurrection of good that was seriously wounded. They may include special characters and special verses for particular occasions to augment the traditional characters and text. Characters introduce themselves in a particular fashion - 'In comes I ...'

They often contain a strange mix of characters and their origin is unclear. Some are obvious references to the crusades. It may be another example of absorption of events into popular customs so that they constantly evolve:

  • Saint George
  • Turkish Knight
  • Soldier (usually called Slasher)
  • Doctor
  • Devil
  • King of Egypt's Daughter

Other characters such as Robin Hood, Maid Marian, the Sherriff and Little John have been adopted into some plays. Father Christmas has been known to make an appearance. Strange extras make not infrequent appearances, such as Beelzebub who only appears at the very end and announces (along the lines of):

In comes I, Beelzebub.
Over my shoulder I carry a club
In my hand a frying pan,
Don't you think I'm a jolly old man?

At this point he usually starts leading the money gathering from the public.
Sometimes St George is King George, the soldier is French and the daughter is a Molly or Betty


Associated with Pace Egging, Wren Boys, Hoodening and Souling.