[The following mummers’ play was printed first in Notes and Queries, 5th series, vol. ii, 503 ff. (Dec. 26, 1874), by the Rev. Dr. Frederick George Lee, under the title “Oxfordshire Christmas Miracle Play.” It is also printed by Manly in his Specimens of the Pre-Shaksperean Drama, vol. i, 289. Dr. Lee wrote of it as follows: “The text of the play was taken down by myself from the lips of one of the performers in 1853. I first saw it acted in the Hall of the old Vicarage House at Thame, in the year 1839, by those whose custom it had been, from time immemorial, to perform it at the houses of the gentle-folk of that neighbourhood at Christmas, between St. Thomas’s Day and Old Christmas Eve, January 5. These performers (now long scattered, and all dead but one, as I am informed) claimed to be the ‘true and legitimate successors’ of the mummers who, in previous centuries, constantly performed at the ‘Whitsun’ and ‘Christmas Church Ales,’ records of which are found on almost every page of the ‘Stewards’ and Churchwardens’ Books of the Prebendal Church of our Blessed Lady of Thame.’ In Mr. Lupton’s History of Thame some account of these performances is given; while, in the ‘Address’ prefixed to his privately-printed and curious tract, Extracts from the Accounts of the Proctors and Stewards, &c., of that town, he refers to the exceeding popularity of the 116mumming for many years. In Lord Wenham’s time, i.e. 1790, the performances were annually given at Thame Park; and at the Baronial Hall of Brill, Bucks, about 1808-14, the entertainment was attended by the nobility and gentry for miles round, and is reported to have been produced on a scale of considerable magnificence. The man from whom I took down the following in my notebook had performed at Brill, in the year 1807, and his father had done the same at Thame Park in the previous century. I do not profess to be able to explain the text of the play, nor can I quite admire all its points. Its coarseness, too, is not to my taste. Least of all can I comprehend its purport. Its anachronisms will be patent to all. But at least its action is vigorous, and, when I was a boy, I confess that I thought the performance most delightful and impressive. As the late Mr. Lupton (a local antiquarian and a gentleman of excellent taste and high character) informed me of so much that is here set forth, I may add that he, at the same time, expressed his conviction that my version of the play is most probably the only one that had ever been committed to paper; for the dialogue was purely traditional, and handed down from father to son. Nothing whatsoever has been altered or added by myself. I have only ventured to put the directions in Italics in a little more concise and intelligible language that that in which they were dictated to me.”
Mr. Chambers in his Medieval Stage devotes a chapter to the Saint George Play (vol. i, 205 ff.), listing twenty-seven printed versions on which his account is based. The play is distinctively a play, with characters playing individual parts, as distinguished from the 117 various sword and other dances which sometimes include dramatic features, but with few and indefinite characters, a connecting feature being that in some cases in the dances a doctor appears as in the Saint George Play. This play seems far to have surpassed other forms of mummers’ play in popularity. For the general subject of folk-plays, see the volume announced by the Folk-Lore Society under the editorship of T. F. Ordish, who has already treated it in Folk-Lore, vol. ii, 326, vol. iv, 162.
The play consists characteristically of three parts, the “presentation,” in which the persons, as they are successively announced, come forward or “enter” from the half circle in which they stand; the “drama” proper; and the “quete,” or passing round a suitable receptacle for gifts of money, which terminates the performance. The serious presentation of the story of Saint George, forming the kernel of the play, has, as will be seen, long since merged in rustic burlesque and foolery, for which Dr. Lee felt it necessary to offer his quaint apology. That the story should have been turned into extravaganza was inevitable, if it was to be perpetuated at all, after its original inspiration had disappeared with the conditions of life and belief which originated and fostered it. Degenerate and intrinsically trivial as the modern versions of these plays are, they are, however, of real interest and value in illustrating the persistence of tradition, and above all as attesting the natural tendency of popular drama to turn to national tradition and history for themes for dramatic presentation.
The many versions vary widely in minor details, though alike in outline. There is great variety as regards the names of the characters, even Saint George, 118who in some versions would be quite unrecognizable were it not for the parallel afforded by other versions. The version here printed seems rather more full and interesting than others. Manly prints another modern version (the ãLutterworthä), and another from Cornwall may be found in “Everyman” with other Interludes in “Everyman’s Library,” Appendix A.
The text here given reproduces Dr. Lee’s text in Notes and Queries, following it in arrangement of lines, explanation of words, and other details.
KING ALFRED’S QUEEN
OLD KING COLE (WITH A WOODEN LEG)
OLD FATHER CHRISTMAS
ST. GEORGE OF ENGLAND
THE OLD DRAGON
THE MERRY ANDREW
OLD DOCTOR BALL
All the mummers come in singing, and walk round the place in a circle, and then stand on one side.
From The Second Shepherd’s Play, Everyman And Other Early Plays, translated with Introduction and Notes by Clarence Griffin Child; Houghton Mifflin Company; Boston-New York-Chicago; 1910; pp. 115-121.
[Thanks to Catharine D. Rhoads for help spotting typos! — Elf.Ed]