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Purbeck Mummers

Seasonal folk plays performed by troupes of actors known as mummers or guisers (or by local names such as rhymers, pace-eggers, soulers, tipteerers, galoshins, guysers, and so on), originally from England, but later in other parts of the world.

Although usually broadly comic performances, the plays seem to be based on underlying themes of duality and resurrection and generally involve a battle between two or more characters, perhaps representing good against evil. Usually they feature a doctor who has a magic potion which is able to resuscitate a slain character.

The principal characters, presented in a wide variety of manner and style, are a Hero, his chief opponent, the Fool, and a quack Doctor; the defining feature of mumming plays is the Doctor, and the main purpose of the fight is to provide him with a patient to cure. The hero sometimes kills and sometimes is killed by his opponent; in either case, the Doctor comes to restore the dead man to life.

To most groups, mumming was a way of raising extra money for Christmas and the play was taken round the big houses. Most Southern English versions end with the entrance of "Little Johnny Jack his wife and family on his back". Johnny, traditionally played by the youngest mummer in the group, first asks for food and then more urgently for money. Johnny Jack's wife and family were either dolls in a model house or sometimes a picture.

Those involved with mumming groups were often unwilling to admit to it as they did not like to confess to begging. However it seems that it could be quite lucrative, it is said that three nights of mumming often raised as much as a whole month's wages for the agricultural labourers who mostly made up the groups.

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