Neathery Batsell Fuller &
The Mummer's Mask of a Stag

by Neathery Batsell Fuller and Michael Fuller

February 2001
The Stag Mask
A mummer's mask in the form of a stag was constructed by Neathery Batsell Fuller in St. Louis (Neathery de Safita of Burj al Muderah of the Three River Barony in the Kingdom of Calentir) during 2001 to duplicate a "classic" Medieval mummer mask as illustrated in an 14th century illuminated manuscript in the Bodleian library of Oxford University (Ms. Bodley 264). A marginal panel in the lower right corner of the verso of Plate 21 shows a stag masked mummer leading four other dancers (two women and two masked men) to a musical tune provided by a man playing the lute. The entire plate is illustrated in a collotype by the Bodleian Library (1933:plate 21 verso). The detail of the mummer is illustrated in color as figure 5.20 of Masks: Faces of Cultures by John W. Nunley and Cara McCarty (published in 1999 by Harry N. Abrams, New York).

The stag mask is a very ancient, dating to the stone age in Europe. A 2.5 ft. high painting on the wall of a cave named Le Trois Freres in France clearly shows a shaman wearing a stag mask and costume http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/projects/esm/Images/Sorcerer.gif). The stag shaman painting at Le Trois Freres has not been directly dated by C-14 analysis, but the style of subject of the paintings in the cave place it to the period at the end of the Ice Age around 15,000 to 10,000 B.C.

nction of the stag in Paleolithic religion is hard to reconstruct. Wiccan believers see him as the powerful male spirit of the animal world or as one writer described him "The God, is the sun, the source of masculine energy; he is the raw force, wisdom and law" (http://www.abaxion.com/nvsha.htm).

Some Medieval writers would link the stag with a force that attempts to stamp out evil because of its tendency to trample snakes. The symbolic meaning of the stag could easily change through time. Willene B. Clark and Meradith T. McMunn noted that the stag crossing dangerous seas was symbolic of a Christian who leaves the profane world to enter the sacred world of religious life (Beasts and Birds of the Middle Ages, 1989, page 4). The 13th century book entitled Histoire ancienne jusqu'a Cesar describes the Classical tradition of a tame deer owned by Sylvia, daughter of Tyrrhus. The death of the deer at the hands of Ascanius was the cause of a battle between Tyrrhus and the Trojans (Mary Coker Joslin in Beasts and Birds of the Middle Ages, 1989, pages 165-6).

Li Romans d'Alixandre

MS. Bodley 264

MS. Bodley 264 is a text entitled Li Romans d'Alixandre or the Romance of Alexander. The text was written in April of 1340 and is attributed to Lambert li Tors. It was written in a Flemish scribe in the dialect typical of the region around Flanders - the dialect is called Picard (Bodleian Library 1933:3-4). The illuminations in Li Romans d'Alixandre belong to the Anglo-Norman style of artistry.

A number of comical and profane illuminations, such as a peasant "mooning" a cowled woman on the recto of Plate 56, make it very clear that Li Romans d'Alixandre was not written in a monastery or for a monastery - the same conclusion was reached by the librarians at the Bodleian Library (1933:4).

 

The stag mummer shown on the verso of Plate 21 of Li Romans d'Alixandre touches the right hand of a cowled woman (a nun?). She in turn touches the hand of a rabbit, the rabbit touches the hand of a wolf, and the wolf touches the hand of another cowled woman (a nun or saint?). The whole scene is clearly viewed as sacrilegious by a tonsured Benedictine monk who holds a club in his left hand and raises his right hand in a gesture meant to stop the dance.

What could be the meaning of the small illustration? E. T. Kirby noted in Ur-Drama: The Origins of Theatre (published by New York University Press in 1975) that the Roman Catholic church issued several edicts that condemned masked performances and several specifically mentioned the Stag. Saint Augustine spoke out against masked drama involving the Stag in AD 395 and Bishop Caesarius of Arles protested the same matter in AD 506. It was likewise condemned in the 6th century Council of Auxerre.

The scene of the stag mummer has nothing to do with the text recorded on the page or the other illustrative scenes. The text deals with Alexander the Great and the attack of the Greek Army on the defended city of Tyre. The major panels on the page show Alexander, his horse men, the soldiers of Gaza and Eumenidus.

Li Romans d'Alixandre is unique in several respects in terms of illustrating life during the Medieval Period along the lower borders of several plates. It shows two examples of puppet plays performed for an audience ( http://www.geocities.com/Broadway/Booth/8253/chapter4.html) and several panels portraying musicians, board game players, and courtship. The major theme of the illustrations in Li Romans d'Alixandre is combat including the battles of Alexander and the jousting of Medieval knights (William Barber and Julier Barker, Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pagaents in the Middle Ages, 1989, Widenfeld & Nicolson, New York.)

Additional illustrations of mummers are contained on the recto of Plate 110 and the verso of Plate 181 in Li Romans d'Alixandre. The images on Plate 110 show a drummer providing the beat for 9 dancers that include men wearing the mask of a dog, old man (?), sheep and monkey. Women dancers are positioned between the mummers.

The panel of mummers led by the falcon is illustrated in color in Storia Universale del Teatro by Cesare Molinari published in 1983 by Arnoldo Mondadori Editore. A black-and-white print of the mummers led by the donkey is illustrated on Plate 3 in Masks, Transfomration and Paradox by A. David Napier published by the University of California Press in 1986.

Mummers

What does the term "mummer" mean during the Medieval Period? Several explanations have been offered in print. The second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary identifies the word used in 1440 for "One who mutters and murmurs" and used in 1502 for "An Actor in a dumb show."

Several references to mummeries in European history were enumerated in The Theatre in the Middle Ages by William Tydeman (Cambridge University Press, 1978). Mummers performed at the coronation banquet of Alfonso IV of Aragon on Easter Day of 1328. King Richard II was entertained by 130 mummers at Kennington in 1377. Numbers of costumed mummers took part in performances for Edward III in 1347, 1348 and 1349. Masked crowds in France crowded the streets during the Fetes des Fous (Feast of Fools) which was held on New Years Day and was a continuity of the Roman festival of Saturnalia. In England, masked celebrations were held on on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of the fast of Lent. Something of this tradition continues in the carnival of Mardi Gras. The earliest reference in Europe to Carnelevare, accordingto Samuel Kinser (Carnival, American Style 1990, page 3), occurs in AD 965. E. K. Chambers (The Mediaeval Stage, Vol. 1, 1903, page 391) notes that the Fetes des Fous was mentioned in a decree of Pope Innocent III in 1207.

Allardyce Nicoll disagrees with the Oxford English Dictionary and derives the English word from the German word Mumme that means "a mask." This argument is presented in Masks, Mimes and Miracles: Studies in the Popular Theatre (published by Cooper Square Publishers, New York in 1963). Ingrid Brainard argues that the English word "mummer" is ultimately derived from the Greek name Momus - a god of mockery and scoff ("Mommerie" in the International Encyclopedia of Dance 1998, Vol. 4, page 448-9 and also http://www.pantheon.org/mythica/articles/m/momus.html).

 

Mummeries (plays involving many mummers) were performed by aristocratic amateurs and the bourgoeise according to historians. William Shakespeare (1564-1616) portrays mummers in the A MidSummer's Night Dream (composed ca. 1595)as proletariats: Bottom the weaver, Peter Quince, Snug the joiner, and Flute the bellow mender ( http://www.allshakespeare.com/plays/midsummer/index.shtml). The mummer play in A MidSummer's Night Dream is entitled "Pyramus and Thisbe" and was performed as an entremet at the wedding of the Noble Theses and Hippolyta.

Who watched a mummers play? Tydeman noted that the audiences included the "King and Queen, mayor of London, the city sheriffs and alderman" and lords of the "great estates of the realm." These plays were performed on Mayday, Christmas, Twelfth Night, New Year's Eve, New Years Day, Easter, coronation, ahead of Lent, etc.

 

Alan Brody identified three types of mummer plays that survived into the 20th century in England. Hero combat is the most common type and the remainder include the Sword Dance Ceremony and Wooing Ceremony (The English Mummers and their Plays, 1969, page 4). Brody's book contains two photographs (Figures 5 and 6) of English Mummers performing the Horn Dance with Hobby Horse and Reindeer heads mounted on handles. E. K. Chambers (The English Folk-Play, 1964, pages 87-112) identified a catageory of "Abnormal Mummers' Plays" including a Robin Hood Play, the Plough Play, and the Reversby Play.

R. J. E. Tiddy wrote The Mummers' Play (Oxford University Press, 1923, page 126) and noted that William Shakespeare has two scenes in As You Like It (ca. 1598) that refer to deer-killing. Act 2, Scene 1 contains the story of "melancholy" Jaques who mourned over the killing of a deer. Act 4, Scene 2 consists of "Jaques and some of Duke Senior's lords" singing a ribald song about killing of a deer ( http://allshakespeare.com/plays/ayli/ps.shtml). Tiddy felt confident that Shakespeare made use of material he had witnessed in Mummer plays when writing the deer-killing scenes.

Shakespeare's use of the deer-killing in As you Like It may also have been a reference to the Classical myth of Diana who punished Actaeon by turning him into a stag and his subsequent death when attacked by his own dogs ( http://www.mythology.com/dianaactaeon.html). The Celtic religious tradition included the god named Cernunnos, sometimes portrayed as a stag, who is born at the winter solstice and dies at the summer solstice. It is difficult to determine if the stag-hunt rituals , associated with the figure of Tristan (as in Tristan und Isolt in German, Tristrams saga in Old Norse, and Sir Tristrem in Middle English) derive from the Classical tradition, Celtic tradition, or a mixture of both. Hunting ceremonies during the Middle Ages is dicussed by Gerard Brault in the Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Vol. 6, page 359, 1985).

Plate 34a from Roman de Fauvel , an illuminated manuscript produced in Paris during 1316. It is a satirical work that includes text, music and images. Cesare Molinari identifies this scene as men wearing masks (both grotesque and animal forms) who are serenading widows preparing to sleep. Drummers provide the rhythm for the singing. Two of the men walk bent over with sticks to imitate animals (apes?) walking on all fours.Two men push hand carts containing children or fools. The animal masks include lions, bears, and goats. The six women in the windows are clearly frowning at the mummers.This color plate is from Theatre through the Ages by Cesare Molinari (1975, page 77).

 

Plate 36b from Roman de Fauvel shows a donkey headed mummer approaching a woman in her bed. Two lower panels show a dozen mummers (masked as apes, lions, and fools) singing and dancing. The mummers play drums, fiddle, bells, cymbals, and one bangs of a metal cooking pot. The four women in the windows and the woman in the bed are clearly frowning at the mummers. This color plate is from Theatre through the Ages by Cesare Molinari (1975, page 76).
An extravagent dinner theatrical entremet devised by Philippe de Mezieres depicted the Conquest of Jerusalem by Godfrey of Bouillon during 1099. The play was performed in 1378 at the Palais de la Cite in Paris. The audience included Charles V of France and Emperor Charles IV. Actors, dressed as Crusaders, arrive in a ship-cart (lower left) and ladders are used to scale the city wall (lower right) that was defended by actors dressed as Saracens. Spears are used as props by both the Crusaders and Saracens. The original color manuscript illumination was part of the Chronique de Charles V that was produced in the late 14th century. This black and white plate is from The Theatre in the Middle Ages by William Tydeman (1978, page 72) and another example is in The Medieval Theatre by Glynne Wickham (1987, Figure 40).
The mummers illustrated on the verso of Plate 181 in Li Romans d'Alixandre show five men, wearing daggers, and disguised in mummer masks.
The variety of masks include a falcon, ox, goat, monkey and donkey. Heraldic devices decorate the surcoats of the donkey, goat, and falcon. The five mummers on the verso of Plate 181 form a line that is opposite of six women who hold hands and lean their bodies as if to join the mummers in dance. It would be easy for these two lines to merge and produce a single dance line of alternating woman/man/woman/ etc. as show in the recto of
Plate 110.
verso of Plate 71 from Li Romans d'Alixandre shows a Nobleman chastising 3 dog-headed mummers.