The Mummer’s Play first began in Roman times when at the end of the old year and the beginning of the new processions of masked figures would take place. These performing figures or “mummers” would parade the streets in “their various disguises, to the sound of music, figuring as spirits of some kind (Jevons 1916). In England the festival survived past the Roman Era as the Mummer’s Play. These masked mummers would go from house to house and try to enter, which they were only allowed to do after they gave a performance for the householder (Jevons 1916).
The performance was acted completely in silence, thus the root of our word “mum”. This silence is perhaps to further the illusion of the performance for the audience (see Michael Dean's Halloween).
The fascinating part of a Mummer’s performance, and why it can be so closely associated with the origins of Halloween, is the fact that in every performance of a Mummer’s Play a character is slain and then brought back to life. It is possible that this performance is the “development in dramatic form of what was originally a religious or magical rite” (Jevons 1916). Even when it is difficult to fit it into the storyline of the drama, the revivification does occurs and the “person slain is brought to life again” (Jevons 1916). This might have a link to the dying season and the performance is an attempt to revivify the sun and the crops. In the same way that Samhain has a liminal quality, so too does the Mummer’s Play. Both festivals have a fluid transcendence between life and death attributed with them, a transcendence I believe is mediated by the mask.
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