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Hester What's a Mummers Play? (82* d) RE: BS: What's a Mummers Play? 20 Nov 02


Just read the Jungian analysis that Ian pointed out, "The English Mummers as Manifestations of the Social Self" by Christine Herold .

And while I find Jungian analysis to be too focused on the psyche of the individual to be a satisfying approach to communally produced socio-cultural phenomena, still, I believe that Herold's identification of the play characters as mythic types is very helpful in decoding the meaning of these plays.

I'm also particularly intrigued by an idea buried in the footnotes, that the Western European mummer's plays descend from the customs of the Roman Saturnalia, via Greek mumming plays in the 13th century.

Saturnalian customs of midwinter misrule have been very robust and enduring. Indeed, the Normans introduced the Winter Lord of Misrule into the English royal court, and this "King of the Bean" was well-documented in the English universities in the late medieval and early modern period. Even the divinatory charms still baked into British Xmas cakes in the 20th century (ring for marriage, button for batchelor, thimble for spinster, etc.) are an elaboration of the "bean lottery" of the Saturnalia.

Also, thinking about the motif of cross-dressing and midwinter misrule, does anyone know of a historical link between these folk plays and the 19th century professional Xmas pantomimes? If so, could you suggest sources for further reading on the topic?

Cheers, Hester


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