Traditional Drama 1985, Sheffield, 12 October 1985


Folk Play Home - Conferences Introduction - Author Index
Contents: 1978 - Apr.1979 - Oct.1979 - 1980 - 1981 - 1982 - 1983 - 1984 - 1985 - 1994 - 1998 - 2002 - 2011 - 2012

  • Dramaturgical Formulas in the English Folk Play
    Thomas Pettitt

    Abstract: Theatre historians habitually point to "folk-play echoes" in early dramatic works such as mysteries, moralities, interludes and stage-plays. When these are not purely verbal parallels, or vague archetypal fallings-and-risings, but concrete and recognisably similar sequences of action, such instances are undoubtedly significant for appreciation of the interaction of "traditional" with other early forms of English drama. Priority has been assigned to the folk play on the basis of its ritual origins, which counter the absence of documentation prior to the medieval and renaissance genres it is supposed to have influenced. With the collapse of the ritual origins theory this priority can no longer be assumed and in some cases it is likely that the direction of borrowing was the other way round, with traditional drama absorbing material, via jigs and drolls, from the early popular theatre. It is also likely that there existed a corpus of standard routines of "dramaturgical formulas", comprising both action and speech, common to many popular dramatic traditions, and analogous to the verbal formulas of traditional song. The familiar lazzi of the sixteenth century Italian commedia dell'arte may merely be one particular manifestation of the phenomenon. The English folk plays, within the framework of the seasonal house-visit mumming, comprise varying conglomerations of such formulas, sometimes, say through chapbook or antiquarian intervention, temporarily coalescing into fixed sequences.

    [Ron Shuttleworth Collection holds audio tape recording, with transcript.]
  • Medieval Spanish Drama: Present Knowledge and Future Prospects
    Rafael Portillo

    Abstract: Drama in medieval Spain has been studied very little. Even when English scholars in the early twentieth century looked abroad to find parallels with Middle English cycles, they looked more to France and Germany then to Spain. There were plays in Spain in the medieval period, though no complete extant cycle survives. In Seville there are documents which record the use of pageants and the representation of certain characters, both biblical and allegorical. However, in Spain there is a well-established tradition of religious procession, and in Seville the processions of the Holy Week are organised by guilds, some of which still have trade affiliations. It is possible that these processions still maintain some of the principles of staging used at earlier periods. This is an aspect of drama that needs investigating, and it is possible that a search through Spanish archives, which have hardly been tapped as yet, could yield many interesting points of comparison with the drama in other countries, particularly England.

  • Film session
    Steve Roud (Introducer)

  • A New Look at English Folk Play Costumes
    Peter Millington

    Abstract: This paper attempts a fresh examination of English folk play costumes, taking account of the broad European context. It starts with a review of the ideas of previous writers, which covered the types and functions of the costumes, as well as trends in their development. A set of working categories is presented which divides the costumes into (1) realistic costumes (2) non-representational costumes, and (3) dancers' uniforms. Trends and the influences which have shaped the folk play costumes are examined in more detail. Important among these have been the costume practices of the popular professional theatre. Some non-representational costumes were probably inherited from the pre-existing customs to which the plays became attached in the eighteenth century. They may therefore give clues to the early history of the plays.

    [Published at:

    Peter Millington (2002) A New Look at English Folk Play Costumes
    http://freespace.virgin.net/peter.millington1/Costumes/Costumes.htm, 8th Jan.2002]

  • The 1926 General Strike: An Upper Class Festival of Rebellion
    Rachelle Saltzman

    Abstract: In eighteenth and 19th century labour conflicts in Britain, such as the Luddite and Swing disturbances, it was the working classes who, fearing that technological innovations threatened their customary way of life, sought power for their protests in folk models of "upside-down" behaviour found in traditional rituals, ceremonies and dramas (e.g. men dressed up as women, blacked their faces, paraded about riotously at night demanding money and free beer from the propertied classes). In response to such displays of protest, the upper classes simply intensified their everyday roles as magistrates and paternalistic landowners to reaffirm the customary social order and their own authority.

    In clear contrast, however, the 1926 General Strike exhibited a unique display of symbolic power, issuing as it did from an unexpected source not, as in previous centuries, from the workers but from the upper classes themselves whose authority had already been seriously undermined by the pre-war agitation of trade unions, suffragettes and the Irish, as well as by the Great War itself. During the strike young gentlefolk transformed a potential working class revolution into a nine day May festival in which, for example, university students and young businessmen on holiday costumed themselves in workers' uniforms, assumed roles as lorry drivers and bus conductors and threw strike parties in their offices. Even upper class women offered rides to those without transportation, acted as telephone operators and debated what to wear to the strike.

    Unlike most folkloric and anthropological investigations, this paper will focus on how upper, as well as lower, classes in modern western society employ folkloric forms in innovative and symbolic ways. The upper classes drew upon traditional elite cultural forms of festival, drama and play, and their associated processes of topsy-turviness, role switching and subversion to attempt as their earlier rural counterparts had to revivify a dying social order whose most visible threats were labour unrest and an increasingly powerful government bureaucracy. They did not intend to turn the world upside-down, but merely to arrest the historically evolving structures of the post-World War I world and turn society right side up again.

  • "As Pleased as Punch"
    Frances Clarke

    Abstract: This paper presents an attempt to explore some of the aspects of Mr. Punch's character which account for his popularity both past and present.


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