Christmas Guisers' Play from Newport, Shropshire [1883]

C.S.Burne (1883-1886)


Folk Play Home Scripts Intro County List Class List Characters

Context:
Location: Newport, Shropshire, England (SJ7419)
Year: Perf. 1885
Time of Occurrence: Christmas
Collective Name: Guisers

Source:

Charlotte Sophia Burne
Shropshire Folk-Lore: a Sheaf of Gleanings.
London, Trübner, 1883 (-1886), pp.410,482-9,491


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

{THE PLAY.}

[Open-the-Door].

I open the door as I walk in,
To ask your favour for to win.
Whether I rise or stand or fall,
I do my duty to please you ail.
But room, brave gallants, room! And give me room to rise [read, ride].
I come to show you pretty sport this merry Christmas-time [read, tide].
Acting well or acting vain, [Note 1]
It is the grandest act on any stage.
But room, brave gallants, room I do require!
Enter in, Singuy, and show thy face like fire!

Singuy {enters}.

Here I am, Singuy! Singuy it is my name.
From English ground I sprang and came.
I search the nations round and round,
And if I find King George I give ten thousand pound!
King George he stands right at the door, he swears he will come in,
With his bright sword and buckler by his side he swears he'll pierce my skin.
Although I think he is a cowardly dog, I am afraid he is not stout,
He swears he will have his revenge before he does go out.

[Open-the-Door].

[King George is here ready at hand
I'll fetch him in at thy command.]
If you can't believe me what I say,
Step in King George and show the way!

King George.

The dewdrops of yonder mountain [Note 2] [sic].
I am in search of an enemy, and if I find him this sword shall end his life

Singuy.

Pierce me then, thou vile and treacherous dog!

King George.

Have I found thee?' I pierce my sword in style: I'll crop thy
Wings, thon shalt not fly, this sword shall end thy life!

{They more round each other, striking their swords one against the other.}

[Open-the-Door].

Stir up the fire and make a light
To see this awful battle by night!

Singuy.

Enter in that noble soldier bold,
Before King George he strikes me cold.
I see him coming, I inn afraid it's too late!
Spare me a few minutes, consider my hard fate!

{Singuy leans on his sword as if wounded.}

King George.

Where is this man before me stands?
I'll cut him duwn with sword in hand!

[Open-the-Door].

Enter in Noble Soldier!

{Soldier rushes forward and strikes up King George's sword; the wounded Singuy retires from between them.}

Soldier.

Forbear, forbear, King George! Look down with pity on him, and
use him as thyself. Thou shalt not wrong him!

King George.

Who bist thou? [Note 3] a soldier?

Soldier.

A soldier? yes, a noble soldier bold, and Slasher is my name. [Note 4]
With my bright sword and buckler by my side I hope to win this game. [Note 5]
[And if this game should do me good
I'll first drawn [sic] sword and then thy blood.]

King George.

How, hasher, how slasher? how canst thou talk so hot
When there's one in this room thou little thinks thou'st got?
That will hash thee and slash thee as I told three once before,
And I always gain the championship wherever I do go!

Soldier.

'How, hasher, how, slasher, how canst thou talk so hot?'
When my arms are made of iron, my body's made of steel,
My head is made of beaten brass, no man can make me feel!

King George.

Stand off, thou swaggering dog, dos'n't thou know
I am the great and valiant George, the conquering hero?
Who slew the fiery dragon and brought him down to slaughter,
And by that means I gained the King of Egypt's daughter.
And dragon is thy [? my] enemy. I'll quickly end thy life.
I'll crop thy wings, thou shall not fly, this sword shall end thy life.

{They fight, clashing swords as before.}

[Open-the-Door].

Strike up, King George, it must be so,
The horriblest battle that ever was know,
The clock struck one, the hour is gone,
It is time this horrid battle had adone!

{Soldier falls prostrate.}

[Open-the-Door].

King George, King George, what hast thou done?
Thou hast killed and slain my only son!
My only son, my only heir!
Can't you see him bleeding there?

King George.

His wounds are mortal, call for a doctor?

[Open-the-Door].

I'll give five pounds for a doctor!

King George.

Never a doctor come yet! I'll give ten pounds for one!

[Open-the-Door].

Enter in Little Doctor!

Doctor.

Rut, tut, tut! here comes a doctor, and a doctor so good,
And with my hand I'll quench [? stanch] his blood.
I carry ills and pills to cure all diseases,
Ladles and gentlemen, take my word just as you pleases.
I can cure the itch, the pitch, the palsy, and the gout;
If there is nineteen old ladies [read, diseases] I can fetch twenty out.

[Open-the-Door].

How far have you travelled, noble Doctor?

Doctor.

As far as [from] the fireplace to the bread-and-cheese cupboard.

[Open-the-Door].

No further?

Doctor.

Oh yes, over England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, and Spain,
And all the parts that thou canst name.

[Open-the-Door].

What's the finest cure thou hast ever done, noble Doctor?

Doctor.

I once rode ten miles one morning before I had my breakfast, to cure
an old lady with the pimly-pam, that couldn't sneeze.[Note 6] I give her
one of my small pills that did her good. She could either sing a song
or smoke a pipe or eat her breakfast as well as any old man the next
morning.

[Open-the-Door.]

[Try thy skill, noble Doctor.]

Doctor {stooping over Soldier}.

Cup, Jack [Note 7] take one of my nip-naps,
Put it down thy tip-taps,
And since thou hast been slain,
Rise up and fight King George again!

Soldier {rising}.

O horrible! O terrible! The like was never seen!
A man knocked out of seven senses into seventeen,
Out of seventeen and into seven score,
The like was never seen here nor yet done before!

Doctor.

Ladies and gentlemen, you see I have brought this man safe and sound,
As well as any man on English ground,
I have healed his wounds, I have searched [? stanched] his blood,
I have give him one of my small pills and it has done him good.

Soldier.

How much is your demand, noble Doctor?

Doctor.

Ten pounds, but since thou hast been slain, I'll take five.

[Soldier] {attacking King George}.

[My sword is indebted to thy blood, and I'll still have my revenge!]

[King George.]

[Have it then!] {Clashing of swords as before.}

[Open-the-Door] {strikes up the swords}.

[Put up them swords and be at rest,
For peace and quietness is the best!]
Enter in Old Bellzibub! [Indexer's Note 1]

Bellzebub.

Here, here, here comes one that never come yet!
With a big head and a little wit.
Although my wit is so small,
I think I've enough to please you all.
[Ah, ah, ah, how funny! {indicating his garments of shreds and patches}.
All these fine things and no money!]
My name in old Billy Bellzebub,
And on my left shoulder I carry a club,
And in my right hand a small dripping-pan,
So I think myself a jolly old man!

I am a jovial tinker,
And have been all my life,
So now I think it's time
To seek a fresh young wife.
And then with a friend we'll a merry life spend,
Which I never did yet, I vow,
With my rink-a-tink-tink, and a sup more drink,
I'll make your old kettles cry sound!
{Chorus.} Sound, sound!
I'll make your old kettles cry sound!

They drawed me to the barracks,
They drawed me up and down,
They draw me to the barracks,
And put my poor legs in pound,
But now with a friend I'll a merry life spend, etc.

My jacket's all pitches and patches,
And on it I give a sly look,
Sly trousers all stitches and statches,
Wouldn't quite suit a lord or a duke!
But it's pitches and patches I wear,
Till I can get better or new,
I take the wide world as I find it,
Brave boys, if I'm ragged I'm true.
{Chorus.} True, true!
Brave boys, if I'm ragged I'm true.[Note 8]

[Open-the-Door].

Enter in little Jack Dout!

Jack Dout.

Here comes little Jack Dout {sweeps},
And with my brush I'll sweep you all out!
It's money I want, and money I crave,
Or else I'll sweep you all into your grave.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, you that are able,
Put your hands in your pockets and remember the ladle.
For when I am dead and all in my grave,
No more of the ladle I shall crave!

{The party [used to] stand in a semicircle, linking their little fingers together.}

{Chorus.} We wish you a merry Christmas,
Also a good New Year,
A pantry full of good roast beef,
And barrels full of beer!

{The Clown presents the ladle for contributions.}

{FINIS. [Note 9]}


Notes:

Burne's Footnotes:

"1 Read, 'Acting youth or acting age,' Sussex (Selmeston) version.

2 This is probably the first line or title-heading of a song, inserted thus briefly in some old MS. copy as a stage-direction to sing it, and mistaken in time (perhaps after some cessation of the performances) for part of George's speech, In the Eccleshall version, which contains several fragment.s of songs, this phrase runs, 'The dewdrops from the valley.'

3 See Shropshire Word-Book, p.ixxiv.

4 Or 'from Turkey land I came.'

5 Game meads sport, but game and play also often used to mean fight, combat. Game-cock = fighting-cock; he is game = he can fight. To have good game = to have good sport. Game is also 'what is shot down'; hence applied to hares and birds. - (W.W.S)

6 To be unable to sneeze was a sign that a person was possessed or bewitched.

7 Cup = co' up, come up! See Calls to Animals in Word-Book.

8 The words in italics are conjectural emendations of the MS. copy. The air will be found among the music. A longer version of the song, collated from three copies, is given in the current volume [iv.] of the Folk-Lore Journal." [Indexer's note: The words in italics in this song are: 'put', 'pound', and the whole line ending 'duke'.]

9 [Indexer's Note: Burne's final footnote (not given here) is a very long list of the published versions of the play she had encountered.]

Indexer's Notes:

The lines that Burne printed in square brackets are presumably the 'corrections' that Burne made to the script from the Eccleshall, Staffordshire version. Where appropriate, the relevant speech designations have also been placed in square brackets.

According to Burne (see below) the character designated 'Open-the-Door' was not actually named at Newport - the name being borrowed by her from Eccleshall. I have therefore put this speech designation in square brackets.

Footnote 1. It is not clear which character spoke this line at Newport. Assuming the bracketed lines have been inserted from the Eccleshall script, the speaker could be the Doctor, although he could also be Open-the-Door.

Burne's Preamble:

"I have been in the habit of seeing the guisers' play almost every Christmas from childhood upwards, from 1860 to the 28th December 1885), performed by Newport or (of late years) Eccleshall men; and I know that it was acted by Edgmond men in 1883 and 1884. The piece is entirely traditional, neither manuscript nor 'chap-book' copies of it are known here, and consequently it suffers slight vari- ations from time to time, but these alterations are very trifling, and a passage omitted one year is generally remembered and inserted another time. I have two MS. copies of the play, written down (from memory) for me in 1879 by Elijah Simpson, chimney-sweep, of Newport, Shropshire, and John Bates, sawyer, of Eccleshall, Staffordshire, both habitual actors. These two towns are only nine miles apart, nevertheless, the two MSS. are distinctly independent versions of the same play, though they give the same characters and the same sequence of incidents. I give the Newport version here, only correcting it from the Eccleshall copy where the MS. seems defective.

The following characters are represented:-

1. Open-the-Door (so called at Eccleshall, his name is not given in the copy from Newport), who speaks the Prologue, calls in the actors in their turns, interferes to stop the fighting, and presides generally. In both these versions he combines the part of the father of the slain warrior, which in some counties is (more properly) given to a separate player.

2. 3, and 4 King George (St. George), and his antagonists; viz., 'Singuy' or 'Singhiles' (sic in MSS.), of whom I am in some doubt whether lie is meant for St. Giles or Sir Guy of Warwick ; [Surely Sir Guy, he 'sprang from English ground.' - W.W.S.]. and the Soldier, by name 'Slashcr,' who describes himself as coming from Turkey, and who is called in the southern counties the Turkish Knight. To these is added at Eccleshall the The Black Prince of Paradise, who defies King George after the death and resuscitation of the Soldier. He appears as a negro. All these carry tin or wooden swords and wear some semblance of a martial aspect, especially the Soldier, who figures in any scraps of old uniform that can be obtained.

5. The Little Doctor, who is always the smallest and youngest of the company, generally a boy of fifteen or so. He often puts on a squeaky voice, and in the earlier performances I can remember always wore a suit of yellow glazed calico, with a cap of the same, and carried a long staff - obviously a magician's wand.

6. Billy Bellzebub, the Fool, who is dressed in white calico garments sewn all over with many-coloured bits of ribbon, etc. He has a bell fastened in the middle of his back, and within my memory always carried a club in the left h;md, and a long ladle fur basting roast meat in the right, as described in his speech. He rushes upon the scene with a leap and a bound, runs up and down all the time he is speaking, and take's care to turn his back to show his bell when he mentions his name.

7. Little Jack Dout, ('or sometimes we say, ma'am, Little Jack Devil Dout.') This character is often omitted, probably on account of his name, but he is certainly a very early feature of the piece. He should carry a broom, to sweep the ashes from the hearth, till paid to desist, whence his name, Dout, to do out a fire. (See ante, p.410.)

Those actors whose dress has not been described, wear any fantastic finery they can get; white and coloured-calico 'slops' and trousers being the principal garments. I can remember pasteboard helmets worn by the Newport men in earlier years. I have sometimes seen strips of coloured paper hanging down before their faces - relics of masks, no doubt; and the Black Prince appeared one year in a short crape veil. The party are accompanied by a friend in plain clothes who carries their coats, and throws one on the ground for the dead man to fall upon. Each player comes forward when summoned by the Prologue, and when his part is over retires to the group in the background again. The players strut up and down all the time they are speaking, which they do very loud and very fluently. I have never heard a hesitation or a 'prompt.' They are content to perform outside the door now, unless invited to come in, but in former times I am told they used to rush in without knocking, which gives great point to the opening lines of the prologue."

Burne's Postscript:

"The final chorus was sometimes omitted, and the Eccleshall men substitute for it a song of which the burden runs, 'Will you follow, will you follow, to the sound of the merry, merry horn?' The air is remarkably sweet and striking, and appears entirely traditional."


File History:
7th Jan.2006 - Digitised from photocopy of clippings in Ordish Collection by P.Millington

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