A medieval mummer was a medieval entertainer who was an amateur actor. He performed in different plays in the villages that were held at harvest time or on some religious occasions such as Christmas.
Sometimes, these plays were specifically meant to preach the religious teachings but the main purpose remained entertainment.
While a medieval mummer was quite popular during the medieval times, the concept itself existed in the ancient world as well. Thus the history of mummers can be traced back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
In Europe, they became particularly popular as medieval entertainers during the middle and late medieval times.
A medieval mummer possessed all the skills required for a sound medieval entertainer. Other than acting in plays, this included skills such as acrobatics, singing, mimicry, and other kinds of entertainment. Eventually, they formed into traveling bands of actors with different actors possessing specialised acting skills.
A variety of plays were enacted by a medieval mummer. One common form was a guises’ play which was mainly popular in the English-speaking parts of Europe. This play was a comic performance mainly done in guise, although it was common to include various religious themes.
In parts of Britain and Ireland, Plough Plays were also popular and were mainly performed on Plough Monday. Plays based on stories from the Bible became popular during the middle and late medieval times. It was also common to stage plays based on popular legends; One such legend was “St. George and the Dragon” and plays based on it was quite popular.
Most commonly, medieval mummers performed in open spaces where a stage could be set for the performers. Mummering parties were sometimes also held by nobles and monarchs in which case the plays took place indoors. Among English monarchs, Henry VII was famous for holding parties where medieval entertainers enacted plays.
It was common for medieval mummers to wear outrageous costumes during their performances. For example, men could dress like women and vice versa. Sometimes, costumes resembling animals could also be worn. The costumes mainly depended on the kind of play and mostly had an element of humour.
Christmas time during medieval times was very important for medieval entertainers, just like everyone else. Medieval mummers performed various plays on Christmas Eve with predominantly religious themes. For instance, various stories from the Bible could be adapted into plays and performed. During the Christmas season, plays performed on the All Souls’ Day were called Souling or soul-caking and were quite popular in medieval Britain.
During medieval times, a medieval mummer was an important medieval entertainer whose main vocation was acting. Thus a medieval mummer performed in various plays which were enacted for religious or social purposes. Other than acting, they also possessed skills like singing, dancing, mimicry, acrobatics, etc.
During the late medieval times, medieval mummers formed into bands of travelling medieval entertainers with individuals possessing specific skills.
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