Open main menu

Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 4, 1893.djvu/162

This page has been validated.
English Folk-Drama.

It will be seen that the Christmas mumming-play in its various forms is not all St. George and the Dragon. It is not all of anything—but an amalgam. The word "mumming" itself puts us upon the trail of another of its elements, that is, the disguising or masking. The masks were made in imitation of various animals—goats, oxen, deer, foxes, asses, and what not—a custom which found its niche of immortality in the palace of Shakespeare's creations, in the person of Bottom the weaver. The wearing of such masks is essentially of savage origin, and, because their survival has entered into the pageantry of the dominant classes of society, it has never occurred to me to suppose that the stationary portion of society received them by a process of precipitation from the top stratum of the social system—although I quite expect to hear that view propounded presently. I should as soon be convinced that heraldry, instead of being a development from totemism, set the fashion of wearing totem signs, which gradually percolated down to savagery. The wearing of masks by the mummers has died out to a great extent, but I do not think it is extinct; there are several recorded cases within the present century. The disguising, or wearing of strange dresses, continues apparently without diminution. In the demand for drink usually made by the first mummer who enters, and the songs sung in several versions, we have the survival of the rite of the wassail-bowl.

There remains to be considered the structure of the typical mumming-play—the characters represented, the dialogue, and development of the action. All this presents only slight variations from the Easter or Pace-Egg play. By the operation of that law of concentration which we have already discussed, the Pace-Egg play, from being performed at Christmas, became mixed up with the mumming or guizing—that is, disguising—and this mixture is the typical Christmas mumming-play, which is regarded as being nothing more interesting than a debased rendering of the pageant of St. George and the Dragon.