Caroling Star Wars-style

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Happy Saint George's Day!

Saturday 23 April 2011

As well as being Shakespeare's birthday (and, we're reliably informed, his death day), it's the day on which all English honour their patron saint George the Dragonslayer - or not. Saint George's Day certainly doesn't get the same level of recognition that, say, Saint Andrew's Day does in Scotland and America, or Saint Patrick's Day does pretty much anywhere. I mean Google has recently created new logos to celebrate the first man in space and Trevithick's steam engine, but what have they got up today?

I can't help thinking that they missed a great opportunity there. The start of the word could have been Saint George on his horse and the end forming the body of the dragon. But then I'm patriotic, a monarchist, and an Englishman through and through. Besides, I love the story of Saint George. I mean, dragons, knights... what's there not to love about the story for a fantasy writer?

And the true story of the man we now know as George the Dragonslayer is, if anything, even more incredible and certainly much more gruesome. For example, did you know that George (who was a native of Libya, not England) was forced to endured various torture sessions, including laceration on a wheel of swords (during which he was resuscitated three times) before finally being executed by decapitation?

But what's all this got to do with a blog about Christmas, I hear you say.

Now I don’t know about you, but for me, the definitive dramatisation of the Robin Hood story is Robin of Sherwood, created by Richard Carpenter in the 1980s. (Hang on in there, all will become clear in a moment.)

In one of the episodes from the second series, entitled Lord of the Trees, Robin and his merry men act out part of a mummer’s play, in order to capture a band of dangerous mercenaries. (They can’t simply kill them because it’s the Time of the Blessing, an annual forest tradition during which no blood can be shed, or the pagan fertility ritual will fail.)

Some years ago now, I wrote a play about the origins of Christmas (funnily enough) for the school I was working in at the time. For one scene I wanted a simple mummers’ play. I returned to Robin of Sherwood for inspiration and have to admit that I used Richard Carpenter’s creation from the Lord of the Trees episode. However, in the TV story, the play isn’t actually completed, so I had to write the end of it in the same style as the rest.

Presented here are my efforts, combined with those of Richard Carpenter, of course. If you’ve thought about putting on your own mummers’ play this year, why not use this one? Just let me know how you get on!

A Mummers’ Play
By Richard Carpenter and Jonathan Green

Cast of Characters

Saint George’s MOTHER
A mysterious DOCTOR

Enter the Mummers.

In comes I, Saint George is my name.
With my great sword, I mean to win this game.
If I could meet the Saracen Knight here,
I’d fight him and bit him, and stick my sword in his ear.

Then in comes I, the Saracen Knight.
I come from the farthest lands to fight.
I’ve come to fight Saint George the Bold,
And if his blood runs hot, I’ll make it cold.

Battle to battle, to you I call,
To see who on this ground shall fall.

Battle to battle, to thee I pray,
To see who on this ground shall lay.

They fight. Saint George is slain.

O Doctor, Doctor! Where can a doctor be,
To cure my son who lies like a fallen tree?

In comes I, a doctor good,
And with his hand shall stop the scarlet blood.

How will you cure him? With potions and pills?

With this bag I can cure all ills –
The itch, stitch, palsy and gout –
Pains within and pains without.

The Doctor shakes his bag over Saint George’s body.

Rise up!

Saint George gets up.

Once I was dead and now I am alive!
Blessed be the Doctor, who did me revive!

What’s this? I thought I struck you dead!
I chopped and I lopped, and I hit you on the head.

Once I was dead but now I’m all right,
And now I’ll slay you, the Saracen Knight!

I have shed your blood before,
And now I’ll have to spill some more.
Battle to battle, to you I call,
To see who on this ground shall fall.

Battle to battle, to thee I pray,
To see who on this ground shall lay.

They fight again. The Saracen Knight is slain.
Behold! The Saracen Knight lies dead,
The ground now with his blood turned red.
Remember me, Saint George is my name!
With my great sword, I have won this game.
He will not fight another day.
And so now ends our Mummers’ play.

Saint Nicholas and the Boy Bishops of Salisbury Cathedral

Saturday 16 April 2011

I visited Salisbury Cathedral today for the first time in at least twenty-five years and, as a result, saw things with very different eyes to the last time I was there. In fact, it was like I'd never been there before.

One of the things that stood out for me was a statue of Saint Nicholas with three young boys sitting on a barrel. My son was able to tell me it was Saint Nicholas precisely because he was pictured with children, but I decided not to relate the legend of the Boys in the Barrel to him. (He's still only 6 years old after all.) You can find the full story in What is Myrrh Anyway?* but I'll re-tell it for you here and now.

The story goes that three boys were travelling to Athens, where they were to be educated, but had been told by their father to stop off at Myra on the way to receive the bishop’s blessing. When they arrived at the town, night had already fallen and so they took a room at a local inn, intending to visit Nicholas the next morning.

Unfortunately for the boys, the innkeeper decided to rob them, thinking that their possessions would make easy pickings. That night the felon crept into the room where they slept and murdered them where they lay. To hide his heinous crime, and profit still further from the villainous deed, he chopped up their bodies, pickling them in barrels of brine, planning to sell their flesh to his customers as salted pork.

However, Bishop Nicholas learnt that the boys were due to visit him and so set out in search of them. His enquiries eventually brought him to the inn and, when questioned about the boys, the innkeeper panicked, telling Nicholas that the boys had been there but had left the following morning. Nicholas was having none of it and set about searching the premises. It did not take him long to find the barrels which held the boys’ dismembered corpses.

With a dramatic change of heart, no doubt brought on by extreme guilt, the innkeeper broke down and confessed his sins, begging the bishop for forgiveness. The saint was utterly convinced by the innkeeper’s desire to repent and prayed for both him, and the dead boys. As he concluded his prayer, the body parts reunited and the boys emerged from the brine barrels, alive and wholly intact. And so they continued on their way to Athens.

Something else I saw during my visit to the cathedral today, was a monument to a Boy Bishop, which is something else that I cover in What is Myrrh Anyway?

During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, it was the custom within the great cathedrals to appoint a boy bishop from among the choristers on the feast of Saint Nicholas. Wearing full episcopal garb – mitre and crozier included – his term of office lasted from 6 December until Holy Innocents’ Day, 28 December. During this time the boy bishop carried out all the functions of a priest, from taking church services to appointing canons (from among his fellow choristers). This practice began to die out in Tudor times, when both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I tried to ban the potentially blasphemous tradition.

So, all in all, it was a most educational visit.

* a.k.a. Christmas Miscellany in the States.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen!

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