Monday, 17 October 2016

In comes I

Just to prove, again, that the Wirral is an insane time machine and clotted gorge or history, here is something take from one of the appendices to Normal Ellison's 'The Wirral Peninsula'


"The Mummer's Play is a Christmas-time activity, and I am indebted to Mr Sidney Wilson of Frankby for the following words I wrote down at his dictation, as spoke by the team he used to take round farm kitchens, inn parlours and the houses of the gentry, up to the year 1937. He has learnt the words from his father, who, in his turn, had received them from his father .... He called this performance "Beezebubbing"..

CHARACTERS:

LITTLE WIT - Red pants and tails: top-hat and big bow-tie.

KING GEORGE - Old red military tunic: blue pants with red stripe down side: wooden sword: helmet of some kind.

BOLD SLASHER - Khaki uniform with wooden sword. Helmet.

DOCTOR BROWN - Tails, top-hat, large portmanteau full of bottles, etc.

BEELZEBUB - Old man with beard and hump on back: old hat: carrying dripping-tin. Long tail of plaited straw stiffened with a wire.

All have blackened faces.

------------------------------------------------------------------

Enter LITTLE WIT:

In comes I that's never been yet,
With my big head and little wit.
Although my wit is very small,
I'll do my best to please you all.
Stir up that fire and give us a light,
For in this house there'll be a fight.
If you don;t believe in what I say,
Step in King George and clear the way.

Enter KING GEORGE:

In comes I, King George, the noble champion bold.
It was me that fought the fiery dragon and won ten thousand in gold.
It was me that followed the fair lady to the giant's gate.
The giant he almost struck me dead;
I drew my broad and trusty sword
And nearly cut off his head.

BOLD SLASHER shouts from outside: Ha! Ha!! and enters:

The valiant soldier, Bold Slasher is my name,
If I was to draw my broad and trusty sword, I'd surely win the game.

KING GEORGE: How can'st thou win the game
When my head is made of iron;
My body's made of steel;
My hands and feet are made of knuckle-bone?
I'll challenge thee to fight.

BOLD SLASHER: Pull out thy purse and pay.

KING GEORGE: Pull out thy sword and slay,
Or else we'll have a recompense before we go away.

BOLD SLASHER: Right.

Both start to fight. KING GEORGE stabs BOLD SLASHER, who falls.

LITTLE WIT: (shouts) Doctor! Doctor!

DOCTOR BROWN:  (shouts from outside) No doctor to be found.

LITTLE WIT: Ten pounds for a doctor.

DOCTOR BROWN enters:

In comes I, Doctor Brown.
The best old doctor in the town.

LITTLE WIT: How came you to be a doctor?

DOCTOR: By my travels.

LITTLE WIT: Where did you travel?

DOCTOR: Hickity, Dickity, France and Spain.
Back to old England to cure the man that lives in the lane.

LITTLE WIT: How much will you cure this man for?

DOCTOR: Ten pounds.

LITTLE WIT: No less?

DOCTOR: (feeling BOLD SLASHER'S pulse) Nine, and a bottle of wine.

LITTLE WIT: Cure him.

DOCTOR opens portmanteau, takes out several bottles and mixes a concoction:

Now, Jack, open thy throttle,
Take three drops from this bottle.
Rise up Bold Slasher and fight a battle.

BOLD SLASHER rises up and starts to fight KING GEORGE.

LITTLE WIT: Put up thy swords and be at rest,
For peace and quietness is the best.

BEELZEBUB enters:

In comes I, old Beezlebub.
On my back I carry a knob,
Under my arm I've a dripping pan;
I think myself a jolly old man.
I court the lassies plenty,
One by one, two by two;
But there's none to come up to my fancy.
I've a little tin under my arm,
A copper or two will do it no harm;
A shilling or two will do it some good,
Please ladies and gentlemen, put something in good."


Ellison is pretty sure that 'Bold Slasher' is Summer and that 'King George' is winter. I think I agree. If any of you have any ideas on who the rest of the characters are, or were, what the words might signify or how old the pattern of the mummery is, then I would be interested to hear it.

7 comments:

  1. I have been seeing a resurgence as of late with Mummers in weird fiction. I first saw it in Timothy Jarvis' The Wanderer, then it was used to great effect in Andrew Micheal Hurley's The Loney and just recently in DP Watt's collection Almost Insentient, Almost Divine there's a story that makes brilliant use of it as well. I'm sure Jung would have a field day. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Not sure about interpretations but the characters would make a great NPC party in a game.

    ReplyDelete
  3. At the risk of being too obvious, if King George is Winter and Bold Slasher is Summer, wouldn't Little Wit who introduces Winter be Autumn and Doctor Brown who revives Summer be Spring?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Not at batshit crazy as the wirral of your last post, but we've been having an Oldhammer mini-campaign with the wirral as its setting. My favourite discovery so far is that there were barrows known locally as "the bonks" which were destroyed to make way for Birkhenhead Park.

    http://wheretheseapoursout.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/battle-report-despoliation-of-wirheal.html

    ReplyDelete
  5. Very interesting.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Some mummer's troops are still active today. A friend of mine is a member of one of them.

    The basic mummer's play structure is very simple: St George has a fight with Bold Slasher (sometimes called The Turkish Knight), Bold Slasher loses, the doctor cures him, a bunch of weirdos turn up in funny costumes reciting doggerel gibberish, and then the whole troupe demands money from the audience. One might plausibly see this as reflection of ancient (and possibly pagan) patterns of life, death, and rebirth, linked to the passage of the seasons. Depends how generous you're feeling, I guess.

    What I like about them is the weird Chinese-whispers-style variation you see when you compare a bunch of them, bearing witness to a long process of oral transmission. So St George can become King George; sometimes Bold Slasher and the Turkish Knight are two different people (and sometimes Bold Slasher is on St George's side), sometimes St George is the one who loses the fight and has to be healed by the doctor, and so on.

    In one particularly weird example (from Somerset), St George has become King George who has become King George The Third, and he fights against 'The Black Prince of Paradise', a being who appears to be halfway between a demon and a folk-memory of the American Revolutionary War: he boasts that 'my head is made of cannon-balls', and King George III calls him 'thou black and American dog'. It's a wonderfully confused mixture of folk history, folk religion, local tradition, and just sheer random weirdness.

    You can find a big archive of mummer's plays and similar folk plays here: http://www.folkplay.info/index.htm.

    ReplyDelete

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.