Introducing the Interactive Folk Play Atlas.
You never knew nonsense could be so meaningful

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The Master Mummers website is pleased to announce the launch of its interactive Folk Play Atlas of Britain and Ireland (


Sample Map

fuchsia Step in [someone] and clear the way
lime Enter in       "            "        "      "     "
aqua Walk in        "            "        "      "     "
silver Come in       "            "        "      "     "

Over the years, hundreds of folk play scripts have been collected, but the sheer volume has been a problem for researchers. Some have chosen to ignore the "nonsense of the text", while others have been convinced that the texts hold useful clues to the history of the plays, but have not known where to start. The new Folk Play Atlas helps to break this impasse.

The maps reveal that that lots of folk play lines are purely regional in nature, and many intrinsically banal variations in wording or even name spellings turn out to have discrete distribution patterns. Consequently, these help to determine the routes by which the different versions evolved and spread around the country, shedding light on origins, methods of transmission, and historical population movements.

The maps question old assumptions and reveal new surprises. For example, one line spoken by Beelzebub has two main versions. In the first he asks "Don't you think I'm a jolly old man", while in the second he states "I think myself a jolly old man". The difference is perhaps subtle, but the discrete nature of their geographical distributions shows that it is significant.

Another example: The formula "Step in [someone] and clear the way" may be used to call in certain characters in England, whereas in Ireland the same formula asks them to "enter in". Furthermore, the Atlas shows that whereas an English play might use the formula for just one or two characters, in Ireland it tends to be used for most of the characters in the play.


The initial Atlas features 39 maps under the following headings:

  • General Maps Times of appearance, Actors' collective names, Classes of play
  • Research Corpora Showing the coverage of various reference works and collections
  • Script Lines and Characters
    • Entry formulae
    • Combatants
    • Doctors' lines
    • Other script lines and characters
  • Text Relations
  • Performance Locations and Tours Who performed where in recent years.

Most of the maps are available as interactive Google Maps, which allow you to zoom in and out, and to click on markers for more information about particular locations.

About 40% of the maps are brand new, the rest coming from other sections of the Master Mummers website. Although the content of a few of the maps is fixed, most are dynamic and will be updated as data is added to the relevant databases. The intention is that each map should include a commentary on the possible significance of the distribution that it shows.

Master Mummers welcomes contributions and ideas for new maps for the Atlas.

Peter Millington

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© 2009, Peter Millington ( Last updated: 26-Nov-2009