"This is a Mummers’ play I wrote": Part 4 - Adapted Mumming Plays

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Adapted Mumming Plays

With these plays, the mumming play format or even specific traditional texts are adapted to suit the interests of a club, society or other interest group. These include New Age and Neo-Pagan groups who adapt the plays for their enactments and rituals, and fan clubs who adapt them as "Fan Fiction" - literary works written by fans in the style of their favoured author, television series, or whatever. Although the adapted mumming plays are probably written with performance in mind, they may or may not actually be performed. The purpose may be more about staking a claim to mumming plays for the adaptor's belief system, or building a bridge between the playwright's different personal interests.

The degree of adaptation is highly variable, ranging from completely new scripts to specific traditional texts with little more than names changed to match the interest group’s theme. Often changes are also made to emphasise favoured motifs or to remove incongruities. For instance, plays by New Age groups may have a "healer" or a mystical equivalent character, rather than a Doctor, because the title "Doctor" smacks too much established medical practice for their tastes.

Example Adapted Plays

  • Mummer's Play for the Eclipse (B.Patterson, 1999)

    To quote from the author's introduction to this text:

    "The play was performed at the Hurlers stone circles on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, beginning at the moment of first contact between the Sun & Moon on the day of the total eclipse of the Sun August 11th 1999. It is loosely based upon the traditional combat between St. George & the Dragon with one or two obvious twists! It's characters, for the most part are derived from the Grand Cross which may be found on the astrological chart for the moment..."
    "...All the players were members of Coventry Earth Spirit & the Circle of the Silver Star, who are based near Milton Keynes."
    "The play is lively & offers plenty of opportunity for interaction with the audience. Although it contains humour it also deals with some very powerful issues & processes. The final verses are a translation of a Gaelic prayer to the sun from Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica..."

    In this play, the Sun is eaten by the dragon - Maureen. St.George offers to rescue the situation by slaying the dragon, but is interrupted by Willy the Wizard who says magic is preferable. In the end Brighde is brought in to act as midwife while the sun is reborn.

    This is self-evidently a Neo-Pagan Celtic adaptation, and laden with symbolism relating to the eclipse of the Sun. There are a few traditional lines, mostly spoken by St.George, but apart from the translated Gaelic prayer, most of the script was freshly composed.

  • A Holy Mumming: The Play of St. Blag (S.J.Ross, 1996)

    This play is based on characters from the Yamara comic strip. The script is given in several sections as a play within a short story. The author states that this is:

    "A short story set Where Yamara Has To Live, by S. John Ross. Joe Holy is interrogated by church officials about a Mumming that was staged near his church. A hoot and a holler."

    The script is freshly composed in rhyme, and features characters from the comic strip. The death and resurrection motif is represented by Fea being crushed by a large boulder, and then being raised up by St.Joe administering "healing magic".

  • The Zocalo Mummers' Play [fragment] (W.Linden, 2000)

    This fan fiction comes from a discussion list for the Babylon 5 series. It is simply a traditional text fragment where Father Christmas has been renamed to Father Yearend. (This would perhaps seem more appropriate to a mumming play adapted for a group of accountants.)

  • Þrimskviða Mummer’s Play (B.Smith, no date)

    This is an enactment of the Old Norse heathen Þrimskviða legend. I am not qualified to comment on the accuracy of the rendition of the legend. The text, however, is probably the most atypical of my modern mumming corpus. It is written in blank verse rather than rhyme with much use of inverse phraseology and apparently Old Norse names and terms. To this can be added extensive use of the obsolete letters thorn (þ) and eth (ð). The result appears cumbersome and rather difficult to read. This play has been performed, in a woodland setting.

Case Study - The Viadopolis Mummers’ Play

This play was adapted by "Simahoyo" for fans of the Xena, Warrior Princess television series ("Simahoyo", no date). It is written as a play within a play - intended to be an episode of the series. In this case, the traditional mumming play used as the basis for the script has been kept more or less intact with few new lines added. The adaptation has been achieved simply by substituting proper names in the script with acceptable equivalents from the television series, as follows:

Xena, Warrior Princess
Fig.3 - Xena, Warrior Princess
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Character Substitution

Traditional Cast Viadopolis Cast
- Father Christmas - Gabrielle
- Saint George - Xena, Warrior Princess
- Bold slasher - Julius Cesar [sic]
- Doctor - Salmonius
- Jack Finney - Joxer
Other Names in the Text
- Christmas - Winter Solstice
- Old England / English - Greece / Greek
- King of Egypt’s Daughter - Herodotus' Daughter
- Jamaica - Britannia
- Pounds - Coppers / Dinars
- Beelzebub - Sir Poisongrub

Two types are name substitution are evident. Firstly, the key characters have been replaced with suitable equivalents from the television series. Secondly, changes have been made to avoid anachronisms. Thus, there can be no reference to Christmas, since the series is set in pre-Christian Ancient Greece. Similarly, Jamaica was unknown at that time, so a suitably exotic remote island - Britannia - is named instead. Sir Poisongrub, may not be a substitution, but could have been present in the original text. Certainly E.K.Chambers (1933) lists a "Lord Grubb" as one of the alternative names for Beelzebub in his English Folk-Play. This could be a clue to identifying the specific traditional text that was used, although I have not yet been able to locate it.

© Copyright 2003, Peter Millington (petemillington@virginmedia.com), Last updated: 07-Apr-2016