Mummers' Plays Revisited  book cover
1st Edition

Mummers' Plays Revisited

ISBN 9780367727734
Published March 31, 2021 by Routledge
228 Pages

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Book Description

Peter Harrop offers a reappraisal of mummers’ plays, which have long been regarded as a form of ‘folk’ or ‘traditional’ drama, somehow separate from the mainstream of British theatre.

This fresh view of folk and tradition explores how mummers’ plays emerged in an 18th century theatrical environment of popular spouting clubs and private theatricals, yet quickly transformed into ‘traditionary’ drama with echoes of an ancient past. Harrop suggests that by the late 19th century the plays had been appropriated by antiquarians and folklorists, leaving mummer’s plays as a strangely separate and categorised form. This book considers how that happened, and the ways in which these late 19th century ideas were absorbed into the mummers’ plays, providing a new lease of life for them in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Ideal for anyone with a specialised interest in this unique form, Mummers’ Plays Revisited spans recent work in theatre history, performance studies and folklore to offer a comprehensive and engaging study.

Table of Contents

List of Figures


First Visit: Introducing Mummers’ Plays.

Chapter One: A Theatrical Background.

Chapter Two: First Sightings.

Chapter Three: Turning Theatre into Folklore.

Revisiting: The Last Hundred Years.


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Peter Harrop is Professor Emeritus at the University of Chester, formerly Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor. He has published in Lore and Language; Folk Life; Performance Research and Contemporary Theatre Review, among other journals, and in 2013 he co-edited Performance Ethnography with Dunja Njaradi. Peter is co-Editor (with Steve Roud) of The Routledge Companion to English Folk Performance due for publication in June 2021.


"[Harrop offers] the striking thesis that mummers’ plays should properly be seen as a particular segment of eighteenth-century English theatre history and that their origins, nature, and function can properly be appreciated within that context….The important thing is that the insights achieved by Harrop’s book be brought to the attention of literature and theatre historians…We cannot face fifty more years in which the conventional wisdom prevails…" - Thomas Pettitt, University of Southern Denmark, Folk Music Journal.

"Every now and then a book comes along that changes our understanding of a topic. For more than a century mumming plays have been interpreted as a surviving relic of pagan fertility rituals, celebrating the circle of life and death. In comes Peter Harrop to address the issue head on by examining the evidence.…full of all the academic rigour you would expect and yet remains readable and engaging." - Stephen Rowley, The Living Tradition.

"There is no doubt that Mummers’ Plays Revisited is a valuable contribution to the genre, which, if taken up, will influence the next generation of commentators." - Steve Roud, Folklore, 132:3 2021

"[Harrop] presents a fascinating picture of the way in which the nineteenth-century saw an ‘edge of strangeness’ in its critique of the mummers plays so they were seen as a ‘cultural fossil’ […] increasingly presented as folk dramas rather than theatre, particularly towards the end of that period." - Prof. Katie Normington, Theatre Notebook, 75:1, 2021