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Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/160

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English Folk-Drama.

country. Indeed, if we trace the course of its descent, we find that it has reverted to its original type, to use a cant phrase in science; more correctly, it has thrown off the cloak fastened upon it by the Church, and now, in this fin de siècle period, when Culture is cultivating aesthetic Paganism, the mumming-play of the backward class, as it is distinguished by some folk-lorists, has become more pagan. The dragon, conflict with which may have symbolised some spiritual idea, has disappeared, and the mummers fight together with high boasting; they glory in their deeds; and when they are slain they do not die, but live to fight again. This is a reversion to something extremely like Valhal. I trust the folk-lorists of a future age will not connect it with the æsthetic paganism of our time.

As we are entering the warlike atmosphere of the Northern mythology, I will not lack boldness, but will for a moment refer to the instances of the pageant of St. George in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, mentioned in my previous paper, as it was performed when the Roman Church was at the height of its power, and the St. George's pageant had its place among the miracle-plays which were an institution in the land. In these instances we have the Christian knight rescuing the King of Egypt's daughter from the dragon; but even here there is an element that betrays the northern soil into which the legend was transplanted. The representations invariably took place by a well or water-conduit; and the association with the dragon suggests the fountain Hvergelmer, and its guardian or tenant, the dragon Widhug, or possibly Thor overcoming the serpent Midgard, whom he slew in the waters?

So much at present for the pageant of St. George and the Dragon, reminiscences of which, as it was performed by the Guilds of St. George on April 23rd, we find in the Christmas mumming-plays. But how short of the truth it is to say that these plays consist of nothing but the St. George and Dragon legend, will appear as the analysis proceeds.