Christmas Gysarts Play from Bowden - 1815

T.Wilkie (1815)


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Context:
Location: Bowden, Borders, Scotland (NT5530)
Year: Dated 1815
Time of Occurrence: Christmas; Fasternse'en
Collective Name: Guisarts; Gysarts

Source:

Thomas Wilkie
Ancient Customs and Ceremonies of the Lowland Scots
National Library of Scotland MS 123, 1815, pp.148-54


Cast: (Click on any name for the character name index.)
Text:

{Scene first. Enter a servant with a besom who sweeps the floor, singing as follows:}

1. [Servant]

Red up rocks redd up reels

[or 'Redd up stocks redd up stools']

Here comes in a pack o' fools
A pack o' fools was never here before
Meikle head and little wit stands behind the door,

2. or Redd Room

Redd room, and redd room
And gie's room to sing
We'll shew ye the best sport
Acted at Christmas time.

{Sometimes one and sometimes all of them repeat at the same time, when they first enter into a house, the preceding verse. Enter the commander of the band.}

Commander

Activous and activage,
I'll shew you the best sport
Ever acted on any stage
If you don't believe the word I say
Call for Alexander of Macedon
And he will shew ye the way.

{Enter Alexander of Macedon}

Alexander of Macedon

Here comes I, Alexander of Macedon
Who conquered the world, all, but Scotland alone,
And when I came to Scotland
My heart it grew cold, my heart it grew cold
To see that little nation, sae crowse and sae bold,
Sae crowse and sae bold, sae frank and sae free,
A call for Galashen, and he will fight wi' me.

{Sometimes I have heard Galashen pronounced Slashen. Enter Galashen who kills Alexander.)

Galashen

Here comes I, Galashen
Galashen is my name
Wi' sword and buckler by my side
I hope to win the game,
My head is clothed in iron
My body's clothed we' steel,
My buckler's made o' knuckle-bone [huckle-bone]
My sword is made o' steel.
I call for great St George of England and he will fight wi' me.

{Some Gysarts in the character of Galashen, repeat the lines thus. 'My head is made o' iron, my bodies made o' steel, my a-e is made o' knuckle-bone' etc. Galashen is next killed by St George. Enter St George of England}

St George

Here comes I, great George of England,
See my bloody weapon, it shines clear,
It reaches up to my very ear,
Let any man come fence me here.

{Enter a boy}

Boy

As I was at a fencing school,
I saw a boy turn out a fool
A fool, a fool, as you may see,
I deliver him up to fight wi' thee.

{This dragon, of a boy, enters the list with St George and stabs him, to the astonishment of the party present. He falls down on his knees, repeating as he looks at the dead body of St George.}

Boy

Ohon, ohon, I've kill'd a man,
I've killed my brother's eldest son.

{The servants are ordered to take up the body of St George, but, to their surprise, he says:}

St George

I am, I am, I am not slain,
For I'll rise and fight that boy again.

{The boy says to him:}

Boy

To fight wi' me ye are not able,
For my sword will split your haly table.

{The boy transfixes him with his spear, as he is in the act of rising to fight him.}

{A Doctor is next called for, by another of the company, and a second cries}

[Another]

'fifty pounds for a doctor'.

{Enter a doctor.}

Doctor

Here comes I, a doctor, as good a doctor as Scotland ever bred.

[Someone]

What diseases can you cure?

Doctor

I can cure the itch, the stitch, the maligrumphs,
the lep [probably leprosy] the pip, the roan,
the blaen, the merls, the nerels,
the blaes, the splaes, and the burning pintle.

{Another asks him:}

[Another]

What more diseases can you cure?

Doctor

I can cure a man that has lain seven years in his grave and more.

They

What will you take to cure this man?

Doctor

I will take 10 to make a complete cure.

{They offer him six pounds which he refuses, then eight, lastly nine.}

Doctor

Nine and a bottle of wine will do.

{And immediately he touches him with a small rod or wand, orders him to}

Doctor

rise up, Jack.

{The other killed chieftains are reanimated with a touch of the Doctor's wand, and instantly spring up, all except Poor Jack, who rises slowly and complaining of a severe pain, in the lumbar regions of his back.}

Doctor

What ails your back?

Jack

There is a hole in it wad hold a head of a horse three fold.

Doctor

This is nonsense, Jack, you must tell me a better tale than this.

Jack

I have been east, I have been west
I have been at the Sherckle-dock
And many were there, the warse for the wear
And they tauld me, the Deel there, marries a' the poor folk.

They

What did you see at the Sherkle-dock?

Jack

I saw roast upo' rungs,
t--- [tits?] upon tongues,
ladies p-----ng [pissing?] spanish needles, ten ells lang;
auld wives flying in the air, like the peelings o' ingins [onions]
swine playing upo' bagpipes;
cats gaun upon pattens,
and hens drinking ale.

{Scene last. At the termination of Jack's speech, the gysarts are desired to drink with the family, after which they are presented by each person in the house with a small sum of money for their trouble. They lastly form themselves into a ring, and as they dance round, all of them sing the following carol.}

[They]

As we came by yon well we drank
We laid our gloves upon yon bank
By came Willie's piper to play,
Took up our gloves and ran away;
We followed him from town to town,
We bad him lay our bonny gloves down,
He laid them down upon yon stone,
Sing ye a carol, ours is done.

{Sometimes each of the gysarts sings a carol of the preceding sort.}


Notes:

Wilkie's Notes:

"In the southern counties of Scotland, a number of young men dress themselves in a fantastic manner and paintor disguise their faces and in this situation go through towns, villages, farmsteads etc., enter into every house, where they think the inhabitants will allow them a small pittance, for which they perform a kind of dramatic game and call themselves "Guisarts". Tradition says that it is very unlucky to let the gysarts go out of the house, where they have performed that tragedy (which they sometimes call Galatian, or Alexander of Macedon) without giving them some money to drink , to the success of the family.

The Gysarts always dress themselves in white. They appear like so many dead persons, robed in their shrouds, who have risen from their narrow homes, and the simile is still improved from their faces being all painted black or dark blue: their mutches are sometimes adorned with ribbons of diverse colours, but these seldom enter into their dress, which they wear below their shroud or gown. The evening is the usual time that the Gysarts make their appearance, though I have seen themperform in the sunshine, in some villages.

Every evening from Christmas to Fasterne'en is allowable for the Gysarts to make their perambulations.

The extract is called 'The Game of Guisarts'. In a list of performers, all except the boy are labelled 'servants'."

PTM's Notes:

Taken by me from the transcript in B.Hayward (1992) Galoshins : The Scottish Folk Play. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1992, ISBN 07486 0338 7, pp.124-129.

Hayward Notes:

"I have ventured to ascribe this text to Bowden, where Wilkie was born c.1789, in the belief that he is writing from his own experience.

This is the earliest detailed account of the Scottish folk play, and extremely valuable for the picture it gives of the Border custom about the turn of the century.

Wilkie may be mistaken in thinking 'Slashen' to be a variant of 'Galatian'; it is more likely a corruption of 'Slasher' who slashes with his scimitar, shable or sabre (see for example LEITH).

The significance of the carol which closes the performance may be in the symbolism of the well and gloves. Wells were symbols of purity: gloves were used in contracts of vassalage by enfeoffing with a glove, or by securing a fief by presenting a glove. In view of the feudal colouring of the custom, it may be that the carol remembers the presentation of a glove by vassals renewing their tenancy, and therefore demonstrates the use of the folk pastime to decorate social transactions."


File History:
1st Oct.1999 - Entered by Peter Millington

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Last generated on 26/12/2007 by P.Millington (Peter.Millington1@virgin.net)