December 7 – Mummers' Plays in Britain

Posted on December 7, 2013

At Christmas time, troupes of actors perform in the streets or in private and public houses—just as they have since medieval times. The actors are called mummers or guisers. The first term refers to the fact that the actors stayed mum, or acted out the plays silently, in mime. The second term refers to the fact that the actors wore disguises (also known as costumes!)

...It seems that most mummers' plays are not, in fact, acted out in mime. Instead, most of them involve speaking parts, usually in rhyme, and often singing as well. In some places in the British Isles, the actors are called rhymers or even Christmas rhymers, a name that makes much more sense. But the traditional name mummers is more widely known.

Mummers' plays often involve characters such as St. George and the Dragon, Robin Hood, the Turkish Knight, and Beelzebub. There is commonly a sword fight between the hero and an opponent, and a very important character is a comical quack doctor who brings back to life the loser of this sword fight! It's funny that every account I read said that the doctor who was able to pull off this miracle resurrection was a “quack,” which means someone who isn't trained as a doctor, but who pretends to be a doctor. A fake, a fraud. But someone who can actually bring back to life a dead person would be more like a miracle worker!

Here is one example of a Mummers' Play.  You can see that there is a lot of comedy and audience participation!

Here in the U.S., common plays to see at Christmas time is O'Henry's “The Gift of the Magi” or Dickens's “A Christmas Carol.” Fewer swords, fewer knights, and (usually) fewer laughs, too!  

Today, watch a play, or start making plans to put on a play! If you want to put on a Yuletide Mummers' Play, here is a free script to use or adapt. 

Also on this date:

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

Astronomer Gerard Peter Kuiper's birthday 

Plan ahead:

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