Abstract: Thomas Hardy's novel The Return of the Native (1878) includes a description of a mummers' play, together with some dialogue. When the novel was dramatised, in 1920, Hardy supplied a complete text of the play.
Cawte, Helm and Peacock, in English Ritual Drama (1967) suggested that a traditional play from Higher Bockhampton, near Dorchester, was the source for the play described in The Return of the Native. However, Preston, in Southern Folklore Quarterly (1977), subjected the complete text to computer analysis and concluded that "Hardy's play is not traditional in any strict sense of the term".
Consideration of Hardy's biographical details and comparison of his text with other Dorset plays suggest that the play's source should be relocated and that Preston's conclusions should be modified. The issues raised may be seen as extending beyond the question of Hardy's reliability as a folklore source to the emphasis placed by researchers upon textual studies to the exclusion of other aspects of traditional drama.