Original ERD - Criteria for Inclusion in the List

Compiled by E.C.Cawte, A.Helm & N.Peacock. Online ed.: P.T.Millington

horizontal rule
Master Home >> eERD Home >> Original Chapters >> Criteria for Inclusion
This chapter has stood the test of time, except for parts of the section entitled 'The Problem' (footnoted below). The Classification remains well-defined, as does the justification for excluding the 'Derby Tup' plays. The discourse on the nature of traditional versus revival performances is also useful.


WE have examined our material as a traditional ceremony rather than a series of literary texts, although there is undoubted academic interest in endeavouring to establish the origin of lines or passages, for example, C.J.Sharp notes that the Ampleforth (Yorks) Play contains lines from Congreve's Love for Love (Sharp, 1913, 17). Similarly, Pasquin gives an account of a visit to Bristol Fair in 1770 where he saw a performance of two plays, one of which, The Siege of Troy, included a scene between Hector, Achilles, a Physician and O'Driscol. Hector was killed in combat and revived by the Physician summoned by O'Driscol. The lines used were identical with those in the equivalent part of the Mummers' Play (Pasquin, 1791). Many texts included historical figures - Lord Nelson, General Wolfe, Napoleon, etc., and a twentieth-century version from Staffordshire is reported to have included Donald Duck. These additions are common, and are summarised in Chambers (1933), but they do not concern us here because they are late additions to a much older ceremony. [1] We believe that the basis of the Play is an action (Beatty, 1906) around which texts have grown in an effort to rationalise what had become inexplicable with the passage of time. The basic theme of this action is bringing fertility to the places and people visited. [2]

We have therefore classified the ceremonies in terms of their basic action, and have ignored not only the nonsense of the text [3], but also the local names used by the performers and witnesses, such as Molly or Morris Dancers, Pace-Eggers, Tipteers, Plough Jags, Guisers, Mummers, Soulers, and Sword Dancers. To use these names as a basis for studying the geographical distribution is confusing and unhelpful, particularly because they are often used for other ceremonies which have no play. [4]


On the basis of the action we distinguish three main types of Play. These are the Hero-Combat (H/), the Wooing or Bridal (W/), and the Sword Dance (S/) Plays (see DEFINITIONS, p.37). The Wooing Plays usually end with a Hero-Combat sequence and these examples are shown in the Table as 'Wooing/Hero-Combat', but are plotted on the map as 'Wooing'. Characters in the Wooing Plays are normally well defined and are not found elsewhere: such characters, the Recruiting Sergeant, Lady, Ploughboy, Dame Jane, can appear in plays which have no wooing element, but only a Hero-Combat action. These plays are marked in the Table with an asterisk [Hero-Combat + Dame Jane] since we feel that, although there is no wooing text now, it may have existed before: they are classified as 'Hero-Combat' because the evidence of the remaining action makes any other classification impossible. Several plays in south-west England (e.g. Keynsham, Somerset, and Broadway, Worcestershire) have wooing dialogues at the end, but these do not resemble the Wooing examples we have listed, and we think these dialogues are late additions. The Sword Dance Plays, usually more elaborate, often combine elements of the Hero-Combat and Wooing types. Sometimes the lock of swords is put round a man's neck and he may fall down, but there is no enactment of a revival. It seems to us that these probably had a complete play at one time, but we list them as 'Sword Dance + Execution' to indicate that there is no revival. Unlike Chambers (Chambers, 1933) we do not accept a calling-on song as evidence for the former existence of a play.

The maps demonstrate that, although the Wooing and Sword Dance plays are found in reasonably well-defined areas, and only in England, the Hero-Combat type is more widespread, even to the extent that plays of two types, either Hero-Combat and Wooing, or Hero-Combat and Sword Dance, have been performed in the same locality (see p.87). It would be unwise therefore, to classify by its geographical location a play about which nothing is known but its existence. Where the available text and description do not enable us to classify a play, it is listed as 'Doubtful'. The doubt here concerns the type, not the existence. In other examples, a play is described, but the players may have come from elsewhere, we do not know for certain they were residents. Here we use the classification 'Visiting' or 'Visitors'. This only indicates a doubt; if we know the team visited from elsewhere, we omit it altogether. One further example of rustic drama has been deliberately omitted. A play text has been recorded in a few places near Sheffield accompanying the Old Tup, which until recently was taken round at Christmas to the singing of the 'Derby Ram'. Sometimes the Ram was killed by a butcher, and revived, but we think this was merely a dramatisation of the song and that the custom was more closely related to the Mari Lwyd, and the Hooden and Souling Horses, than with the present subject. We hope to be able to publish our findings on this subject later.

We have tried in every case to make sure that an action of the relevant type took place, but it is difficult when our source does not make the same distinction, and there may still be some errors. We find the 'ploughboys' particularly difficult.


Only plays known to have had a traditional existence have been included; those whose performance has depended on an outside influence have been omitted. For example, the Sussex team, founded by R. J. Sharp at Boxgrove in 1927, and using a combination of the East Preston and Iping texts, is omitted. Similarly, the play from Fishguard, Pembrokeshire, described in Neal (1910) as a Morris Dance, was taught by some Irishmen, and has been omitted because of its temporary nature. In some instances we know that a play has started de novo at some fairly recent date, usually because of the removal of a performer from one place to another. These we have included as valid traditional teams, because they represent a natural flow of 'folk culture' within an area, and presumably this 'flow' is as old as the ceremony itself.

This leads to the vexed question of the use of the word 'Revival'. It has been used and misused in a variety of ways and we have distinguished the following meanings which we have found may be attributed to the word:

(a) A team stops for a period and then starts again, with all or most of the original team.

(b) As with (a), but all, or nearly all of the performers are new, taught by an old performer, but still in the same village. This may be (i) spontaneous, (ii) as a result of outside influence.

(c) As with (b), but in a different village. Again, this may be sub-divided (i) and (ii) as in (b).

(d) Team starts in the original village, the ceremony taught from book or MS, but with no personal connection with the original team.

(e) As with {d) but in a different place.

(f) Completely new ceremonies with no traditional basis in the proceedings, e.g. some May Queens, Rose Queens.

We only accept (a), (b)(i), and {c)(i) as proper uses of the word 'Revival', and have included them in the list without comment.

horizontal rule

1. It is understandable that the various literary inclusions and incorporated historical personages should be regarded as 'late additions' to the plays. However, Donald Duck notwithstanding, it appears possible that the reverse could actually be the case. The earliest play scripts date from the latter half of the 18th century, and the plays with the most inclusions come from this period and from the early 19th century. These early plays therefore have more diverse texts than the later ones. It is now apparent that during the 19th century, mumming plays came to be expected to conform to a particular format, and there are several documented cases of mid to late 19th century collectors removing 'modern additions' prior to publication. It is also probable that radically non-conformant folk plays were actively shunned, or treated as transient productions not worthy of collection. See Fees (1994).

2. All but a few of the plays listed in ERD feature a 'death and resurrection', a phrase that conformed with the authors' view that the plays were relics of some revitalisation ritual in the Frazerian mould. However, it should also be noted that all these plays have a Doctor, and it has alternatively been suggested - for instance by Kirby (1971) - that possibly the Doctor should be viewed as the focus of the plays, in which case the the dispute is mainly a vehicle for providing him with a patient to cure.

Because of the ubiquity of the Doctor, and because he also distinguishes these plays from other types of play, Millington (2002 & 2003) has proposed the term 'Quack Doctor Play' for this genre of folk drama.

3. Dismissing the texts as 'nonsense' was unfortunate because they constitute the majority of the available evidence. Recent textual analysis has indeed started to yield interesting results (Millington, 2002 & 2003).

4. It is arguably unfortunate that the local names used for the performers were not also included in the tables. While it is true, as the authors state, that in almost every case the names were also used for other non-play customs, and that this can make it difficult to differentiate between them, there do appear to be distinct regional distribution patterns, the significance of which has yet to be determined.


C.Fees (1994) Damn St. George! Some Neglected Home Truths about the History of British Folk Drama, or Bring out the Dead
Traditional Drama Studies, 1994, Vol.3, pp.1-14

E.T.Kirby (1971) The Origin of the Mummers' play
Journal of American Folklore, July-Sep.1971, Vol.84, No.233, pp.275-288

P.Millington (2002) The Origins and Development of English Folk Plays
PhD Thesis, University of Sheffield, May 2002 [Extended Abstract]

P.Millington (2003) Textual Analysis of English Quack Doctor Plays: Some New Discoveries
Folk Drama Studies Today: The International Traditional Drama Conference 2002, ed. by E.Cass & P.Millington
Sheffield, Traditional Drama Research Group, 2003, ISBN 0-9508152-3-3, pp.97-132 [PDF Download - 841kB]

horizontal rule
© 2007, E.C.Cawte, N.Peacock & P.Millington ( Rev. 02-May-2016