Christmas In Ritual & Tradition - online book

The Observance Of Christmas In Various Lands And Ages.

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MUMMERS' PLAYS
the perquisites they collect, in Cornwall "geese-dancers" ("geese" no doubt comes from "disguise"), in Shropshire "morris"—or " merry "—" dancers." 5 It is to be noted that they are unbidden guests, and enter your house as of right.6 Sometimes they merely dance, sing, and feast, but commonly they perform a rude drama.7
The plays acted by the mummers8 vary so much that it is difficult to describe them in general terms. There is no reason to suppose that the words are of great antiquity—the earliest form may perhaps date from the seventeenth century ; the) appear to be the result of a crude dramatic and literary instinct working upon the remains of traditional ritual, and manipulating it for purposes of entertainment. The central figure is St. George (occasionally he is called Sir, King, or Prince George), and the main dramatic substance, after a prologue and introduc­tion of the characters, is a fight and the arrival of a doctor to bring back the slain to life. At the close comes a quite for money. The name George is found in all the Christmas plays, but the other characters have a bewildering variety of names ranging from Hector and Alexander to Bonaparte and Nelson.
Mr. Chambers in two very interesting and elaborately docu­mented chapters has traced a connection between these St. George players and the sword-dancers found at Christmas or other festivals in Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Sweden, and Great Britain. The sword-dance in its simplest form is described by Tacitus in his " Germania " : " they have," he says of the Ger­mans, "but one kind of public show : in every gathering it is the same. Naked youths, who profess this sport, fling themselves in dance among swords and levelled lances." 9 In certain forms of the dance there are figures in which the swords are brought together on the heads of performers, or a pretence is made to cut at heads and feet, or the swords are put in a ring round a person's neck. This strongly suggests that an execution, probaMv a sacrifice, lies at the bottom of the dances. In several cases, moreover, they are accompanied by sets of verses containing the incident of a quarrel and the violent death of one of the performers. The likeness to the central feature of the St.
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