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 Mudeira of the Three River Baronry 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 was not an invention of the Medieval Period 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 function 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 Christian writers had transformed the Stag into a beast of goodness.


MS. Bodley 264 = Li Romans d'Alixandre

MS. Bodley 264 is a text entitled Li Romans d'Alixandre or the Romance of Alexander. The text is dated ca. AD 1340 and is attributed to Lambert li Tors. It was written in the French 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 mummer dance shown on the verso of Plate 21 of Li Romans d'Alixandre? 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 horsemen, 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, boardgame players, and courtship.

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 wearings the masks of a dog, old man (?), sheep and monkey. Women dancers are positioned between the mummmers and each woman touches the hand of the mummer to her right and left.

The mummers illustrated on the verso of Plate 181 show five men, wearing daggers, and disguised in mummer masks. The variety of masks include a falcon, ox, goat, monkey and donkey. Heraldic devices belonging to the donkey, goat, and falcon are clearly meant to show that these mummers were at least knights. 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/mummer/woman/ etc. as show in the recto of Plate 110.

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 falcon 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." 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).

Mummeries (a play involving many mummers) included 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 including the proletariat such as 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."

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 or 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.

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

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.

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 that is killed by Actaeon's dogs ( http://www.mythology.com/dianaactaeon.html). It is unlikely that Shakespeare would have linked the deer-killing with the Celtic god named Cernunnos who is born at the winter solstice and dies at the summer solstice.

References for Medieval Masks and for Mummer Masks
from St. Louis Art museum library, Washington University library, University of Missouri - Columbia library, and St. Louis Community College library:

Barber, Richard
1993 Bestiary: being an English version of the Bodleian Library. Boydell Press, Woodbridge [England].

Barber, William and Julier Barker
1989 Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and Pagaents in the Middle Ages. Widenfeld & Nicolson, New York.

Bartsch, Albert
1993 Holzmasken: Fasnachts und Maskenbrauchtum in der Schweiz in Suddeutschland und Osterreich. Verlag.

Bodleian Library
1933:3-4 Li Romans d'Alixandre. Oxford University Press, London.

Brainard, Ingrid
1998 "Mommerie" in the International Encyclopedia of Dance, Vol. 4, page 448-9.

Brault, Gerard
1985 " Hunting and Fowling" in Dictionary of the Middle Ages, Vol. 6.

Brody, Alan
1969 The English Mummers and their Plays. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadephia.

Chambers, E. K.
1903 The Mediaeval Stage, Vol. 1. Oxford University Press.
1964 The English Folk-Play. Russell & Russell, New York.

Clark, Willene B. and Meradith T. McMunn
1989 Beasts and Birds of the Middle Ages. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Cosman, Madeleine Pelner
1996 Medieval Wordbook. Facts on File, Inc.

Joslin, Mary Coker
1989 Beasts and Birds of the Middle Ages. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Kinser, Samuel
1990 Carnival, American Style. University of Chicago Press.

Kirby, E. T.
1975 Ur-Drama: The Origins of Theatre. New York University Press. New York.

Mantzius, Karl
1903 A History of Theatrical Art, Vol. II. Duckworth & Co., London.

Molinari, Storia
1975 Theatre through the Ages. McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York.

1983 Storia Universale del Teatro. Arnoldo Mondadori Editore.

Napier, A. David
1986 Masks, Transformation and Paradox. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Nicoll, Allardyce
1963 Masks, Mimes and Miracles: Studies in the Popular Theatre. Cooper Square Publishers, New York.

Nunley, John W. and Cara McCarty
1999 Masks: Faces of Cultures. Harry N. Abrams, New York.

Rickenbach, Judith
1996 Alte Masken aus der Fastnachtsmasken aus der Innerschweiz Sammlung des Rietbergmuseums. Museum Rietberg Zurich.

Rossiter, A. P.
1959 English Drama from Early Times to the Elizabethans. Barnes & Noble, New York.

Schumacher, Hans-Joachim
1992 Die Welt der Narren im Wandel der Zeit. Deutsches Fastnachtmuseum.

Shakespeare, William
1595 A MidSummer's Night Dream.
1598 As You Like It.

Teuten, Timothy
1990 A Collector's Guide to Masks. Wellfleet Press.

Tiddy, Reginald John Elliott
1923 The Mummers' Play. Oxford University Press.

Tydeman, William
1978 The Theatre in the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press.

Vince, Ronald W.
1984 Ancient and Medieval Theatre. Greenwood Press. Westport, Ct.

Wickham, Glynne
1987 Medieval Theatre. Third Edition. Cambridge University Press.

Webpages:
http://www.mythology.com/dianaactaeon.html
http://allshakespeare.com/plays/ayli/ps.shtml
http://www.allshakespeare.com/plays/midsummer/index.shtml
http://www.geocities.com/Broadway/Booth/8253/chapter4.html
http://www.abaxion.com/nvsha.htm
http://www.anth.ucsb.edu/projects/esm/Images/Sorcerer.gif