A Mummers Play

 

 

Introduction

Mummers' Plays have been performed in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland for hundreds of years. They are folk dramas based on the legend of St. George and the Seven Champions of Christendom. They were originally mime or dumb shows (Thus mummers from the Middle English word mum, meaning silent.) where all the performers were disguised and known as 'Guisers'. All the characters were played by men who kept the same part for many years. Eventually, dialogue was added, but was passed on by word-of-mouth. Consequently, the 'Chinese Whispers' effect over the centuries and the loss of the real significance of the original story, makes present day performances very entertaining but virtually meaningless to most audiences.

The principal characters are St. George (…of dragon fame.), Captain Slasher, The Turkish Knight, The King of Egypt, Doctor and several men-at-arms who challenge St. George to a duel and are subsequently slain. The Doctor enters and demonstrates his skill by resuscitating the dead knights.

Many historians believe that this drama is a celebration of the death of the year and its resurrection in the Spring.

Up to the turn of the last century it had always been the custom in our village for young men to perform a mummers' play on New Year's Day. We know this because the Reverend John Octavious Coussmaker, Rector of Saint Michael's church from 1884 to 1921, recorded the details in the year 1900, suspecting that this tradition might die out. .

'Sixteen years ago, it was the usual custom on New Year's Day for one's hall door to be suddenly thrown open, without any knocking, ringing or other ceremony, and five or six young men dressed in any eccentric or gay clothing they could get hold of (An old soldier's coat was especially prized), would enter in and then proceed to act a little rough play in the hall. They were always careful not to do any harm, though they pretended to be very wild fellows indeed.

'After a year or two they ceased to come, and their place was taken by a few village school boys, and now these are all grown up and have left the village, and the mummers come no more. Seeing that the custom was likely to die out, like may other relics of the past, I obtained the following words of the play, which I here append. In one or two places the meaning is not very clear, but I write it down as it was given to me, knowing that in the text of the Greek Testament the more difficult reading is usually the more correct one, we may well lose some valuable old allusion.'


Let the play begin!

The Mummers enter singing the 'Ring Tink Tink' song. One of them rings a bell in time to the music. 

Mummers

With a rink tink tink and a sup more drink
We'll make the old bell sound
A merry Christmas to you all
May happiness abound

Speaker

I open the door I enter in
Whether I lose or whether I win
If ever I rise I'll stand or fall
I'll do my duty to please you all
I am put off the ragged act
Put off the royal train
And if you don't believe what now I say
Step in Bulgard and clear the way

Enter Bulgard

Bulgard

In comes Bulgard. Bulgard is my name
I've just sprang from the English Channel again
I've come to search this nation round and round
And if I can find Saint George I'll give ten thousand pounds

Speaker

Saint George? Saint George stands at the door
With his bright buckle sword by his side
He swears that he will tan thy hide

Enter Saint George

Saint George

In comes Saint George
The noble champion bold
With my bright sword and buckle by my side.
I won three crowns of gold

Bulgard

What three crowns of gold didst thou win?

Saint George

I won the emer-she-mer, sham-mer rock-a
I didst slay seven Turks and brought them to the slaughter
And by means of this and that
I won the King of Egypt's daughter.
For a fair body or to fly
Or to conquer or to die

Tip, tap, art thou a prisoner
Tap, tap, art thou a rocky stone?
Think I come here to be cut down like a dog?

Bulgard

Yes

Saint George

Show me the man that dare before me stand
I neither care for thee, nor thy bright sword in hand
Pray what bold art thou?

Bulgard

I am the Turkish champion,
From Turkeyland I came
I come to fight the daring Saint,
George they call his name
And if he calls himself the champion,
I think myself as good
And before I would surrender
I would lose my precious blood

Saint George

Stir up the fire and make a light
And see Saint George and the Turkey fight
The hour is gone
The clock's struck one
Tip, tap, bodge

They fight and Bulgard falls.

Enter King of Egypt

King of Egypt

Saint George, Saint George, what hast thou done?
Thou hast killed and slain my elder son!
Five pounds for a doctor

Doctor

No five pounds Doctor.

King of Egypt

Ten pounds.

Doctor

Here I be!

King of Egypt

What can you cure Doctor?

Doctor

I can cure the itch, the stitch,
The palsy and the gout.
If there's ninety nine diseases in
I'm bound to fetch a hundred out.

I have in my pocket crutches for lame ducks
Spectacles for blind bumble bees
And plaisters for broken-backed mice
I cured Saint Harry of an agony
A hundred yards long
So surely I can cure this poor man

Here Jack, take a sup from my nip-nap.
Rise and walk.
I've cured this man all safe and sound
I've healed his wound and quenched his blood
And he is the best man that ever stood

Bulgard

Oh, my back.

Doctor
What's amiss with thy back, Jack?

Bulgard

My back is wounded,
My heart is confounded,
To be knocked out of life of seven senses into fourscore,
The like was never seen in old England before.
Then hark, Saint George! I hear the silver trumpets sounding,
Down yonder is the way
So farewell Saint George, I can no longer stay

Bulgard dies.

Exit King of Egypt and Doctor

Saint George goes over to Bulgard and puts his foot on his chest.

Saint George

Here am I, Saint George, a noble champion bold;
And with my broad and glittering sword
I won ten thousand pounds in gold.
It was I who fought the fiery dragon, and its father I don't fear,
But through his heart I ran my dreadful spear.
I've searched the whole world round,
And a man to equal me I've never found
If you can't believe the word I say,
Enter in, you Prince of Paradise! And clear the way!

Enter Prince of Paradise

Prince of Paradise

Here am I, the Prince of Paradise, born of high renown
Soon I'll fetch Saint George's courage down
Before Saint George shall be deceived by me
Saint George shall die to all eternity

Saint George

Stand off, thou black Moroccon dog, or by my sword thou die
I'll make thy body full of holes and make thy buttons fly

Prince of Paradise

Pull out thy purse to pay,
Draw out thy sword and slay,
For I mean to have some recompense
Before I go away

Saint George

Now, black Prince of Paradise, where hast thou been?
And pray what fine sights hast thou seen?
Lay down thy sword, take up thy spear,
And I'll fight thee without dread or fear.

They fight and the Prince of Paradise killed

Saint George

Now black Prince of Paradise is dead
And all his glories entirely fled
Take him and give him to the flies
And never more come near my eyes

Enter King of Egypt

King of Egypt

I am the King of Egypt, who plainly doth appear
I'm come to seek my only son, who feels a little queer

Saint George

He's slain.

King of Egypt

Who did him slay? Who did him kill?

Saint George

I did him slay, I did him kill,
And on the ground his precious blood did spill
Please you, my lord, my honour to maintain,
Had you been here you might have shared the same

Enter Hector

King of Egypt

Oh Hector! Oh Hector! Haste with speed,
For in my life I never stood in more need;
And don't stand there with sword in hand,
But use and fight at my command.

Hector

Yes, Yes my Lord, I will obey,
And with my sword I mean to win the day
If that be he that does stand there,
That killed my master's son and heir,
Though he be sprung with royal blood,
I'll make it flow enormous flood.

Saint George

Oh Hector! Oh Hector! Do not be so hot,
For in this room thou little think'st whom thou has got,
For I can deprive thee of this pride
And lay thy anger to aside;
Slay thee and cut thee as small as flies
And send thee overseas to make mince pies

Hector

How can'st thou deprive me of my pride?
Or lay my anger to aside?
Since my head is made of iron,
My body's made of steel,
My hands and feet are knuckle and bone
I'll challenge you to feel

They fight and Hector is fatally wounded

Hector

I am a gallant knight, and Hector is my name,
Many battles have I fought, and always won the game,
But from Saint George I received this wound.
Then hark Saint George! I hear the silver trumpets sound
Down yonder is the way
Farewell Saint George, I can no longer stay.

Hector dies.

Enter Bold Old Bill

Bold Old Bill

Here comes past Bold Old Bill!

Saint George

Why Master, did I ever take thee to be my friend?

Bold Old Bill

Why Jack, did I ever do thee any harm?

Saint George

Thou proud, saucy cockscomb, begone!

Bold Old Bill

Cockscomb! I defy that name.
With a sword though oughtest to be stabbed for the same.

Saint George

To be stabbed is the least I fear,
Appoint your time and place, I'll meet you there.
I'll cross the field at the hour of five
And I'll meet you there, if thou be'st alive.

Bold Old Bill

If you can't believe the word I say
Enter in Old Beelzebub and clear the way.

Enter Beelzebub

Beelzebub

Here am I old Beelzebub
And over my shoulder I carry my club
And in my hand a dripping pan
I think myself a jolly old man

Down in the meadows, where the birds sing funny
Ladies and gentlemen, please fill our ladles with money
The ladles are dumb and cannot speak
So fill them full, for Saint George's sake.

The Mummers go among the audience collecting money with their pans.

When the collecting is finished they exit together, singing the "Ring Tink Tink" song.

With a ring tink tink and a sup more drink,
We'll make the old bell sound.
A merry Christmas to you all
May happiness abound.

The verse is repeated until all the Mummers have gone and the door is closed.