Craig Fees, “Notes and Comments: Mummers and Momoeri: A Response”, Folklore, 100:2 (1989), pp. 240-247


In the conclusion to a recent article in Folklore Gareth Morgan asserts:

For now, we can say that Western mummers’ plays come from Greek mummers’ plays; and that the likeliest time and place for this borrowing was in thirteenth-century Flanders.1

This conclusion is exotic and tidy enough that one would like it to be true, and there are 19th century precursors which make it not entirely untraditional2. Stimulating as one hopes the article will be to those of us actively working in the field of British traditional drama, however, the fact is that Morgan’s case falls below the claims he makes for it, and whatever the relationship between the terms ‘momoeri’ and ‘mummer’, and between the phenomena of Greek traditional drama and ‘Western’ traditional drama, Morgan has not demonstrated them.

In the preamble to his argument, Morgan cites the well-known early 20th century work on the Greek folk plays by Dawkins, Lawson and Wace.3 In support of the significance and similarity of the Greek to the British ‘mummers’ plays he cites the statements of E.K.Chambers and Alex Helm4. Given the criticism that the older folk drama scholarship has come under in recent years5, and given the radical nature of Morgan’s conclusions, a detailed study of the Greek plays and their similarities to the British plays in Morgan’s own terms would have been useful. It would also have been useful to have had a discussion on why a generation of scholars more steeped in the language, culture and history of Greece and more oriented (if I may use that expression) towards discovering the origins of Western culture in the East than most of us are today, did not make the kinds of connections that Morgan himself is making.

Morgan also notes in his introductory paragraph that the ‘passing from country to country of a piece performed by an individual — e.g. a song or story — is commonplace. For a group performance to travel from one end of Europe to another, leaving no close analogues in intervening areas, is a process much more difficult to conceive’ (p. 84). This is not the problem Morgan thinks it. In the absence of a written text what travels is not the song or story or the group performance as such, but a person or a group of people who know the cultural item and are prepared to transmit it. The literature of the mummers’ play is littered with such people6. The minimum necessary to build the basis for a reasonable hypothesis for cultural borrowing is to show that the item of culture existed in one place; that there was a migration of people between that and another place; and that the item of culture or a cognate then appeared in the second place.7

Because Morgan’s proposition is so radical, and because he has put it into such definitive terms, I have taken the liberty of breaking his argument into its essential terms and presenting it in some detail. It is:

1) ‘The Greek plays are generally known as Momoeri or some variant thereof (p.84)?

2) ‘The resemblance to the word ‘mummers’ and its cognate forms in the Western European languages is too close to be coincidence’ (p. 84).

3) No prior etymologies for ‘mummers’ and ‘mumming’, terms first attested in Western Europe in the 13th century, can be entertained:

a) ‘The most favoured has been from the word “mime” ... It is impossible to imagine that “mummer” could have developed from this source’ (pp. 84-5).

b) The German term mummen, ‘to wear a mask’ is later 16th century: ‘Before this, mummen meant “to mumble” . . .’ (p. 85).

c) ‘The derivation of the word from English “mum,” is manifestly incorrect for a form of folk-literature so extensively dependent on words’ (p. 85).

d) A development from Greek mormo ‘a bogey-woman’ ‘must be considered a false trail. The development of rm to m, however natural in some modern English dialects, is not exemplified in the dialect of the period, far less in Greek’ (p. 85).

e) He refutes derivations via Greek Momar or Byzantine Bombaria because the former ‘is an “ye olde” word probably invented by Lycophron, and appearing nowhere else; the second is a mysterious Byzantine festival involving a castanet dance’ (p. 85).

f) The Latin Momus: ‘he may appear in academic and literary products; but there is no hint of any popular use that could have been adopted to so low-level an entertainment as mummers’ plays’ (p. 85).

4) ‘In the East, the situation is very different.’

a) ‘The word itself [momos] has survived in one modern dialect ... in the sense of “fool”. Its cognates ... are the standard words, with a continuous history since antiquity, for “blame” . . .’(p. 85).

b) Momoyeri ‘is a regularly formed compound meaning “scurrilous old men” ’ (p. 85).

c) ‘The second element, yeri “old men”, is the standard name for performers in such Greek dromena. In Skyros, the mummers are known simply as yeri. In Macedonia, they are Baboyeri, “senile, womanish old men”; in the Cyclades, Kukuyeri, “cuckoo” (crazy) old men; in Thrace, Kaloyeri, “good old men”, “monks”.’ (pp. 85-86).

d) ‘Such compounds [with yeri] are known from antiquity. The Septuagint has eschatoyeros, “extremely old man”, and early Byzantine ecclesiastical Greek lyssoyeros, “rabid old man” ’ (p. 86).

5) ‘The Western words, whose derivation has long been disputed, must now be seen as descendants of the Greek word, whose sense is clear’ (p. 86).

6) ‘By the same reasoning, the mummers’ plays of the West must be derived from the mummers’ plays of Greece’ (p. 86) QED.

Part Two of his argument runs as follows:

7) ‘For the first two centuries of its Western existence, the cognates of’’mummers” are confined to Flanders, and specifically to the town of Lille’ (p. 86).

8) ‘Of all the cities of North-West Europe, this was the one most likely in the thirteenth century to have regular contact with the Greek East’ (p. 86).

9) Thus, ‘Western mummers’ plays come from Greek mummers’ plays; and ... the likeliest time and place for this borrowing was in thirteenth-century Flanders’ (p. 87). QED.


★    ★    ★


The minimum basis for building a reasonable hypothesis of cultural borrowing or migration requires a demonstration that the one item of culture existed before the other, and that people moved between the one place and the other.

Morgan sets himself a more difficult task, relating not two items of culture but four, paired off and placed into the equation: momoeri signifies ‘Greek mumming play - 'mummer’ signifies ‘English mumming play — momoeri is the origin of ‘mummer— therefore ‘Greek mumming play’ is the origin of ‘English mumming play’; or, in briefer terms, m1=p1, m2=p2, m1→m2, therefore p1→p2.

In this more complex case the conditions of the simple case must still be met: p1, the Greek mumming play, must be earlier than p2, the English mumming play; and m1, momoeri, must be earlier than m2, ‘mummer’. If the English mumming play were older than the Greek mumming play, or if ‘mummer’ were older than momoeri, then to say that the Greek cultural items were the source of the English would be nonsense. Morgan’s argument must therefore demonstrate:

1) That Greek plays of a kind which could have given rise to the British mumming plays existed in the thirteenth, or earlier, centuries (p1 is earlier than p2).

2) That these were known as momoeri (m1=p1).

3) That there was contact and migration between East and West.

4) That the term momoeri is older than the term ‘mummer’ (m1 is earlier than m2).

5) That momoeri gave rise to ‘mummer’ (m1→m2).

6) That the term ‘mummer’ and its related forms, when they first appeared, referred from the beginning to the English mumming play (m2=p2).

Only if each of these conditions is met could it reasonably be proposed:

7) That the Greek mumming play gave rise to the English mumming play (p1→p2).

Morgan’s argument meets only one of these conditions: There has been contact and migration between East and West, with hiccups, since East and West were united within the Roman Empire9. Taking the other points in order:

1) There are reminiscences and reports from earlier in the 19th century (see, especially, citations in Wace 1912-1913), but all of the Greek folk plays referred to by Morgan have been collected since the late 1890s. The Pontic plays upon which Morgan apparently bases much of his argument have all been collected since 1927 (p. 84). He gives no evidence for their existence anything like so early as the 13th century; nor for their existence before the 19th century. The earliest English ‘mumming play’, however, comes from the 18th century (see footnote 12).

In terms of the documentation p2 is therefore earlier than p1.

2) It is said that the form momoeri is regular; that the type of formation it represents is known from antiquity; that momoyeri is reflected in various Pontic (place?) names; that other formations with yeri signify ‘mummer’, and it is stated that the Greek mummers’ plays are generally known as momoeri or some unspecified variant (but see footnote 8). However, it is not shown that the term momoeri was in use in the 13th century. It is not shown that momoeri signified the Greek mummers’ play in the 13th century. Indeed, it is not shown that the term existed, nor that it referred to the Greek mummers’ play, before the 20th century.

It is not shown that m1=p1 at the time required by Morgan’s theory.

4) It is not shown that momoeri was in use before the 13th century, nor, thinking of the first known instance of the term ‘mummer’ in England, before the end of the 14th century.

It is not shown that m1 precedes m2.

5) Given 2 and 4, it cannot be shown that ‘mummer’ derives from momoeri, and indeed Morgan does not attempt to do so. Rather, it is asserted that the resemblance between momoeri and ‘mummer’ ‘is too close to be coincidence’. Most folk etymologies are ‘too close to be coincidence’, but this doesn’t make them true, and even if true it doesn’t tell us anything about the source of that closeness. If momoeri and ‘mummer’ are related then this is something to be demonstrated, and queried. Isn’t it conceivable, knowing what we do about the nationalist antiquarianism and the reconstruction of ‘Greekness’ through language and folklore in the 19th and 20th centuries,10 that momoeri is a recent formation on the basis of ‘mummer’, for example?

Morgan then states that the derivation of ‘mummer’ is ‘disputed’, that the sense of momoeri is clear, and that therefore the first derives from the second. This doesn’t follow the rules of logic, and doesn’t deal with the fact that while the derivation of ‘mummer’ is disputed,11 it is at least attested. The ‘sense’ of momoeri is that which could be constructed by anyone with a knowledge of Greek, and the fact that it apparently has no derivation, in the sense that it has a history, again suggests that it could be a neologism.


In any event, in drawing his conclusion Morgan has not kept his terms comparable: ‘sense’ does not correspond with ‘derivation’, ‘clear’ does not correspond with ‘undisputed’; consequently, the conclusion (even if true) cannot follow.

In short, Morgan does not show us that m1→m2. Indeed, in terms of available documentation, m2 is earlier than m1.

6) The earliest pairing of the term ‘mumming’ with a recognisable fragment of the mummers’ play is 1770, well over three centuries after the first recorded instance of the term ‘mumming’ in England.12 ‘Mumming’, when described in England in the first centuries of its use, as a dramatic term is cognate with something like ‘disguising’ or ‘masking’; it is not used to describe something uniquely or explicitly like the mummers’ play (see footnote 13). There is no evidence that the mummers’ play existed before the 18th century.13

There is no evidence that the term ‘mumming’ was the local or vernacular term for the activity which educated persons reported to one another as ‘mumming’ and which we now refer to as the mumming play. The evidence (as in Greece itself — see footnote 8) is for a diversity of vernacular terms; and the evidence is that ‘mumming’ became generic only in the course of the 19th and 20th centuries through the influence of publishing.14

It is not shown that m2=p2.

7) It is not shown that momoeri signified a Greek mummers’ play in the 13th century.

It is not shown that ‘mummer’ signified the English mummers’ play in the 15th century.

It is not shown that the term momoeri existed before the term ‘mummer’.

It is not shown that momoeri is the source of ‘mummer’.

It is not shown that the Greek mummers’ play existed before the English mummers’ play.

In short, m1 does not equal p1, m2 does not equal p2, m1 is not earlier than m2, m1 is not the source of m2, and p1 is not earlier than p2. It can not be shown, therefore, that p1 is the source for p2.

Morgan does not establish even the minimum basis for his claim that ‘Western mummers’ plays come from Greek mummers’ plays’; nor, therefore, does he establish a basis for the hypothesis that ‘the likeliest time and place for this borrowing was in thirteenth-century Flanders’.


★    ★    ★ 


In Nomads of the Balkans Wace and Thompson describe what they term the ‘mummers’ play’ performed by Vlachs in northern Greece:

the plot. . . was very simple. The Arab or old man would annoy the bride with his attentions. The bridegroom would naturally intervene and a lively quarrel would ensue, which ended eventually in the death of one of them. He was duly mourned either by the bride or by the old woman and the doctor was called in. Through the doctor’s skill the dead was restored to life and the play ended with a general dance of all the characters and the sending round of the hat.15

There is an undeniable likeness here to the archetypal British mummers’ play, and there are others. But what is the source of that likeness?

Morgan opts for a causal connection. Following the route of the Golden Bough and earlier folk drama scholarship, we might propose a common ritual substrate. We might propose a fashion in folk literature which spread across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, undetected earlier because of our stereotyped notions of the folk. Perhaps Wace, Thompson et al imposed not only the term ‘mummer’ but a preconceived organising principle onto the festivals they recorded, making them appear more like British mumming than they were. Perhaps the perceived similarities are statistically insignificant, given that we are dealing with two related Christian and European cultures which would throw up apparently similar forms, or perhaps statistics can prove that there is a case to answer.

The fact is that the possibilities are endless, and they will remain so until we have more facts and more information. Tony Green’s assessment of the state of traditional drama studies fifteen years ago is still true — What we need now are new questions’16 to give rise to new research to give rise to new answers. If Morgan’s article, flawed as I believe it is, contributes to that end then it will have been a welcome exercise.



1. Gareth Morgan, ‘Mummers and Momoeri’, Folklore 100:1 (1989), 84-87, p.87.

2. See Fortescue Hitchins, The History of Cornwall, William Penaluna, Helston, 1824, p. 718: ‘It is generally understood, that these Christmas plays derived their origin from the ancient Crusades . . .’; Pan, ‘Christmas Festivals’, Gentleman’s Magazine 94:2 (1824), p. 589; W.S., ‘Christmas Drama of St George’, Gentleman’s Magazine June (1830), p. 505: ‘By some the play is considered to have referred to the time of the Crusades, and to have been introduced on the return of the adventurers from the Holy Land, as typifying their battles’; William Sandys, Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modem, Richard Beckley, London, 1833, p. xvii, adds returning pilgrims to the Crusaders; Thomas Hervey, The Book of Christmas, William Spooner, London, 1836, p. 248; John Timbs, Something for Everybody, Lockwood, London, 1861, p. 130; F. W. Moorman, ‘A Yorkshire Folk- Play and its Analogues’, Studies by Members of the English Association 2 (1911), p. 155-156 asked if the English mummers’ play would throw any light on the origins of Greek drama and, p. 144, flirted with the Crusaders. Origins from the East also appeared in the theory that the source of such things lay in Rome, see John Wallis, The Natural History and Antiquities of Northumberland etc., The Author, London, 1769, p.28.

3. R. M. Dawkins, ‘A Visit to Skyros’, Annual of the British School at Athens 11 (1905), 72-80; R. M. Dawkins, ‘The Modern Carnival in Thrace and the Cult of Dionysus’, Journal of Hellenic Studies 26 (1906), 191-206; J. C. Lawson, ‘A Beast Dance in Scyros’, Annual of the British School at Athens 6 (1899-1900), 125-7; J. C. Lawson, Modem Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1910, pp. 223ff; A. J. B. Wace, ‘North Greek Festivals and the Worship of Dionysus’, Annual of the British School at Athens 16 (1909-1910), 232-253; A. J. B. Wace, ‘Mumming Plays in the South Balkans’, Annual of the British School at Athens 19 (1912-1913), 248-265. The latter is clearly intended to be a survey and summation of the information available up until that date. One would also include in this series A. J. B. Wace and M. S. Thompson, The Nomads of the Balkans, Methuen, London, 1914, pp. 137-141.

4. E. K. Chambers, The English Folk Play, Oxford, 1933, pp. 206-210; E. C. Cawte, Alex Helm and N. Peacock, English Ritual Drama: A Geographical Index, The Folklore Society, London, 1967, pp. 23-4; Alex Helm, The English Mummers’ Play, The Folklore Society, London, 1981, pp. 48-9.

5. See, for example, Georgina Smith, ‘Social Bases of Tradition: The Limitations of the “Search for Origins” ’, in Language, Culture and Tradition, ed. A. E. Green and J. D. A. Widdowson, Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies, University of Leeds, and Centre for English Cultural Traditions and Language, University of Sheffield, 1981, pp. 77-87; Georgina Boyes, ‘The Influence of Exemplar Texts on Traditional Drama Scholarship’, Traditional Drama Studies 1 (1985), pp. 21-30 (the Greek plays are referred to explicitly on p. 23); Craig Fees, ‘Toward Establising the study of Folk Drama as a Science’, Roomer 4:5 (1984) pp. 41-51; Paul Smith, Variation in the Manner of Adoption of Cultural Traditions: A Conceptual Framework and Application, PhD. dissertation, University of Sheffield, 1985, pp. 12-17; Simon Lichman, The Gardener’s Story and What Came Next: A Contextual Analysis of the Marshfield Paper Boys’ Mumming Play, PhD. dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1981, pp. 2-19.

6. For one example of the performance of an entire mummers’ play by an individual, see, for example, Craig Fees, Christmas Mumming in a North Cotswold Town: With Special Reference to Tourism, Urbanisation and Immigration-Related Social Change, PhD. dissertation, University of Leeds, 1988, p. 445. James Madison Carpenter, the American who in the mid-1930s recorded a great many mummers’ plays in England, said in an interview with Alan Jabbour recorded May 27, 1972 (AFS 14,762-14,765 LWO 6918, pp. 26-27. My thanks to Steve Roud for sharing a copy of the transcript with me, and to Alan Dundes for sharing a copy with Steve): ‘I suspect there were more people than one [in each town or village] that knew the version. But, in most cases, I just copied down one play from the man I found . . . Each one knew, knew the, all of the play, right straight through. See, they’d gone over it so many times.’

7. Let me emphasise that this is the minimum requirement for a basis upon which a reasonable hypothesis can be constructed, not a sufficient basis in itself for a reasonable hypothesis.

8. Morgan asserts this but does not document it. In none of the material collected before the First World War (as presented in the sources in footnote 3) does the term momoeri or any variant occur. There are, rather (as with the British mumming), a myriad of terms; only a few of these have yeri in them—yepos (a character, Dawkins 1905), Kalogheros (Dawkins 1906), mpampogeroi (Wace 1910, 1912-13). Wace 1912-1913, in what is clearly intended to be a summary of available information, lists and discusses the terms for mummers and mumming known to him at that time: ‘Among the Vlachs the usual name for the mummers is Ligutshari, Algutshari, or Anigutshari. The name Arak’i is merely that of one character applied to the whole body; for the names Ishk'nari and Dzhamalari I can offer no explanation. The Greek names 'Poγκατσια, ‘Poυγκατειαροι and ‘Poυκατζιαρια are clearly the same as the Vlach ligutshari and its variants. Other Greek names for the mummers, such as Mπαγπoyερoι or Mpαγπαyιoυριδεs (at Vlachogianni), which all seem to have the meaning ‘silly old men’, are the names which might be applied to any bufoon or mummer. A parallel to this is perhaps the name Kupek Bey, Dog Prince, at Adrianople, which is certainly depreciatory. The names 'Aγαπαδεs or ’Aραμπδιs are those of one character applied to all like the Vlach Arak'i. So also the name Koνboυvαδεs at Skopelos, is derived from what the mummers wear, and is apparently similar to the names Mμπouβαριoι and Μπιμπovδαρια the latter of which Abbott says is given to the bells. The name Μαyηδεs, Maymen, on Pelion is merely derived from the time of year at which the mummers appear. Lastly the name Καρκαγτδαρoι which the mummers seem to bear at Driskoli and among the Turks indicates the mysterious beings whom they are supposed to drive away.’

If the term momoeri was general before the First World War, why does Wace not record it? If the term is confined to the Pontic material published by Samoulidis, this raises two further problems: 1) All of these plays were collected well after the publication of the Wace/Dawkins/Lawson papers, in which the performers are uniformly and repeatedly referred to as ‘mummers’: has this material in any way influenced the coining or proliferation of the term momoeri? 2) A term collected after 1927 is claimed as the original of a term attested in Western Europe from the 13th century. Morgan has surely left something out of his argument to permit him to make this claim.

9. See, for example, R. S. Lopez, ‘Le probleme des relations anglo-byzantines du septieme au dixieme siecle’, Byzantion 18 (1946-8), pp. 139ff; Kurt Weitzmann, ‘Various Aspects of Byzantine Influence on the Latin Countries from the Sixth to the Twelfth Century’, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 20 (1966), pp. 1ff; D. J. Geanakopolos, Byzantine East and Latin West, Barnes and Noble, New York, 1966; D. J. Geanakopolos, Interaction of the ‘Sibling’ Byzantine and Western Cultures in the Middle Ages and Italian Renaissance (330-1600), Yale University Press, New Haven, 1976. References in the next footnote have more recent examples.

10. See R. M. Dawkins, ‘The Recent Study of Folklore in Greece’, Jubilee Congress of the Folklore Society, The Folklore Society, London, 1930, pp. 121-137; Michael Herzfeld, Ours Once More: Folklore, Ideology and the Making of Modem Greece, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1982.

11. The ‘dispute’ which Morgan sees in the derivation of ‘mummer’ is in any case overstated and to some extent of his own making. He raises a number of alternatives—one from as long ago as 1617, before the rise of modern philology, another by a source named Sathas about which Morgan gives us no information apart from its appearance in Ch. Samoulidis, The Popular Traditional Theatre of Pontus (in Greek), Athens, 1980, p. 131. Both of these are obscure or out of date enough to perhaps be considered red herrings, but his dismissal of the 1617 derivative from mormo (3d) on the grounds that it ‘is not exemplified in the dialect of the period’ begs the question: what, after all, is ‘the dialect’, and what ‘the period’?

He eliminates the German derivation (3b) by assertion, presumably on the same grounds that he eliminates an English derivation from ‘mum’ which he asserts ‘is manifestly incorrect for a form of folk-literature so extensively dependent on words’. This assumes that ‘mumming’ designates and is and has been interchangeable with ‘the mumming play’ from the inception of the term ‘mumming’. It also ignores the fact that the earliest instance of ‘mumming’ cited in the Oxford English Dictionary (1440, not Morgan’s 1502; this is not the earliest attested instance of the word — see footnote 12 below) refers to ‘inarticulate mumuring; indistinct speech’ (The New English Dictionary, citing Promptorium parvulorum sive clericorum, lexicon Anglo-Latinum princeps c.1440: ‘Mummynge, musaccio vel mussatus,' the same source has ‘mummer, mussator' - 'one who mutters or murmurs’). It ignores the many instances of ‘mumming’ in which there is either silence, inarticulate or garbled speech (mumbling), or humming: there are various such entries in the Oxford English Dictionary, the second listing in which under ‘mummer’ is ‘An actor in a dumb-show’; also see, for example, John Henderson, Folklore of the Northern Counties of England and the Borders, Longmans, Green, London, 1866, p. 54; J. Coleman, ‘Irish National Dances, Mummers and Waits’, Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society 2 (1893), p. 77: ‘ the mummers I have seen here were as mute and musicless as their brethren whom I remember seeing so many years ago in the county of Cork’; Florence Grove, ‘Christmas Mummers’, Folklore 10 (1899), p. 351: ‘As far as I can remember the performance is silent and dramatic; I have no recollection of reciting’. According to Thomas Pettitt, ‘The Early English Mummers’ Play: A Contextual Reconstruction’, Prepublications of the English Department of Odense University, No. 31, December 1984, p.6: ‘Indeed, it is generally agreed that (as the etymology of the term would suggest) the mummers referred to in the earliest records, far from putting on a substantial, semi-dramatic show, remained silent’.

The case against Momus — 'he may appear in academic and literary products; but there is no hint of any popular use that could have been adopted into so low-level an entertainment as mummers’ plays’, flies counter to what we know of upper class involvement in mumming and even mumming plays. For example The Oxford English Dictionary cites, under ‘mumming’, the English Chronicle of c. 1465 to the effect that ‘the erlle of Salisbury, the erl of Gloucestre and othir mo of thair assent were accordid to make a mommyng to the Kyng’; in F.R.Raines, ed., The Journal of Nicholas Assheton, of Downham (Lancashire), the Chetham Society, vol. XIV, 1848, a footnote to the January 6, 1618 entry reports: ‘These mummings were rude masquerades in which I remember the young people of respectable families to have gone about at Christmas’; E.F. Rimbault, in ‘’’Round About Our Coal Fire, or Christmas Entertainments’: A Bibliographical Rarity’, Notes and Queries 2nd Series, 8: Dec. 17 (1859), pp. 481-483, quotes the named book, published in 1734, to the effect: ‘Mumming, or Masquerading, when the Squire’s wardrobe is ransacked . . . and every one in the family, except the Squire himself, must be transformed from what they were.’ It ignores that it is the classically-trained literate who have recorded most manifestations of ‘mumming’ until recently, and also ignores the rich interplay between literate and oral cultures (for a recent and extensive study of which see Jack Goody, The Interface Between the Written and the Oral, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1987).

12. The earliest pairing of the term ‘mumming’ with a recognizable fragment of the mumming play is in Andrew Brice, The Mobiador, Battle of the Voice, Brice and Thom, London, 1770, p. 90 fn.x The information in The Mobiad is dated to 1737, but I don’t think we can therefore assume that ‘mumming’ and the mumming play were paired in 1737. The first full text of a mumming play dates to 1780; see Michael J. Preston, ‘The Oldest British Folk Play’, Folklore Forum 6 (1973), 168-174.

Although the earliest appearance of ‘mumming’ recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary is 1440, Thomas Pettitt writes (personal communication, 31.8.1989): ‘My earliest record of “mummer”, “mumming” or the like is the charter of Richard II (undated but necessarily ante 1399) exempting “mommers and our minstrels” from regulations banning citizens of London from going to law with each other outside the city walls. Ref. Ian Lancashire, Dramatic Texts and Records of Britain (Cambridge, 1984), 224—or possibly the London prohibition of 1387 (ibid., 1904): earlier London prohibitions (presumably because in French) use the circumlocution “going about at night with false faces to play dice.” ’

13. Tony Green pointed out as long ago as 1977 (‘Popular Drama and the Mummer’s Play’, in D. Bradby, L. James, B. Sharratt, eds., Performance and Politics in Popular Drama, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1980, 139-166), ‘if Hero-Combat Plays were common before the nineteenth century (their existence is not in itself in doubt), why did those recorders “of old strange things”, Stubbes, Aubrey, Grose, Brand and Strutt, make no mention of them?’ The evidence suggests ‘either a new tradition, or one that is expanding in response to demographic change and the foundation of new modes of livelihood and living’ (p. 142).

Thomas Pettitt, who has done far more recent work in this area than anyone else, writes (personal communication, 31.8.1989): ‘There can be little doubt that at least some of the perambulatory begging customs which in recent times have been accompanied by the performance of a short dramatic interlude, and which we by convention call “mummers’ plays”, can be traced back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. None of the early English records on which this assertion is based suggest however that the show performed in the course of these perambulations included a dramatic play (of the recent or any other variety), as opposed to non- or sub-dramatic dance and the display of guised figures, at most offering brief self-descriptive speeches. The earliest reliable record of seasonal-perambulation-plus-play remains Exeter 1737 (i.e. Brice 1770)[see n.12], and the likehihood is that the plays were added to the previously non-dramatic custom(s) sometime in the seventeenth century. The sources of this dramatic material were undoubtedly varied, but significant among them were probably dialogue and dramatic routines from the repertoire of the popular theatre (which included dramatic jigs, drolls and “merriments”, as well as fully-fledged plays), transmitted via travelling companies of professionals, village “spouting clubs”, and local, seasonally professional groups performing at parish wakes and Christmas Feasts. Those earlier, non-dramatic, antecedents of the mummers’ plays are unlikely to have included the custom occurring frequently in the records as “mumming”: the latter was a quite distinct variety of perambulation in which the visitors did not offer an entertainment in return for a reward, but gambled with dice (“mum-chance”) with their hosts, remaining silent throughout; and their guise was disguise, not costume. The fact that one variety of recent dramatic perambulation (the Hero Combat Play) has been known as the “mummers’ play”, among the folk (performers and audiences) as well as scholars, results either from the transference of the term from one variety of house-visit custom (convivial gambling) to another (begging with a show), or from such a massive dislocation in the nature and purposes of the medieval “mumming” as to amount to a fresh start in its tradition. Either way neither the age nor the etymology of “mumming” (nor those of similar or analogous words in other languages) can prove anything about the origins or antiquity of what we now call the mummers’ plays.’

14. Craig Fees, Roomer, in preparation.

15. Wace and Thompson, op.cit., p. 139.

16. Tony Green, review of Alan Brody, English Mummers and Their Plays: Traces of Ancient Mystery, in English Dance and Song 4:3 (1972), 119.




The Editor apologises for an ambiguity in the presentation of Gareth Morgan’s article ‘Mummers and Momoeri’, which has occasioned the difficulties raised in Note 8 of Craig Fees’s ‘Response’ printed above.

Originally, Dr Morgan’s article had been solely concerned with the Pontic plays described by Samoulidis, but in response to a comment by a member of the Editorial Board he authorised me to modify the opening by incorporating an explicit allusion to the work of earlier scholars on folk drama in Northern Greece. I took for granted that it was clear that everything said from paragraph 2 onwards (including the discussion of the word Momoeri) applied to the Pontic plays only, not those from other regions of Greece. I failed to foresee that misunderstandings might arise, and so made no further verbal adjustments. I apologise to Dr Morgan, and to readers who were misled.