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Folk Play Distribution Map: Occurrence of Lines from
J.White's Alexander Chapbook - 1746-1769

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Master Home >> Atlas >> Occurrence of Lines from J.White's Alexander Chapbook - 1746-1769 >> Google Map

Click on the markers for information about the script(s).
Key to the approximate dates of plays
yellow Before 1746    red Between 1746 and 1769    aqua After 1769
  1. Lines are matched on exact Std.IDs only.
  2. Marker sizes represent the number of matching lines at each location.
  3. Question Marks indicate uncertain or special locations.
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3. Plays with less than matching lines are omitted.  
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5. Omit known composite scripts prepared by literary authors
 
6. Omit chapbooks, broadsides & commercial texts

Commentary

This map is an improved version of one that appeared in my PhD thesis (Millington, 2002, pp.254-255, Map 5). In this version, the markers are individually sized in proportion to the number of matching lines, whereas the original map was cruder, with only three sizes of map marker. The scripts database has also grown slightly since 2002 (Millington, 1994-2006).

The Alexander and the King of Egypt chapbook published by J.White of Newcastle, c.1746-1769, is the earliest folk play chapbook in Britain and Ireland, yet unlike certain later chapbooks (such as The Peace Egg and The Christmas Rhyme) it seems to have had little recorded influence on performed plays. This map shows how many lines from the chapbook are to be found in the plays in the Scripts database. For a play of over 135 lines, the usage of this text is meagre to say the least. Only six plays on the map have 34 or more lines from the Alexander chapbook - i.e. a quarter or more of the script (Filtered Google Map 1).

Two of these texts are known composite scripts, prepared by J.H.Ewing of Ecclesfield, Yorks., and by H.Slight of Portsmouth. These can be discounted because they both merge lines from Alexander chapbbooks with passages from other identified sources for literary purposes. (Filtered Google Map 2)

Two more texts are other chapbooks. One of these is a Whitehaven edition of the Alexander chapbook as reprinted by W.Hone (1827). The other is a 19th century chapbook from Yorkshire - W.Walker's Peace Egg chapbook, published in Otley, which incorporates many Alexander passages literatim. (Filtered Google Map 3)

This leaves leaves just two performed plays. The Penkridge text and the White Boys' play from the Isle of Man. The Penkridge script has some of the additional lines for Beelzebub that are in the late 19th century Whitehaven editions of the Alexander chapbook but not in the Newcastle editions. There is too little information to be able say which edition the White Boys' play may have drawn its text from.

The situation is no better outside of the database. Preston et al (1977), in their monograph on the Alexander chapbooks, noted only one reference to their possible use in the British Isles, in Tiverton, Devon in the 1830s (F.J.Snell, 1904). Comparing texts, this version is probably a transcript of Hone's reprint, including the act and scene headings, and stage directions. Preston et al also mention another possible performance in the United States of America, reported in 1866.

I can add that the description of a performance by " village mummers from Hexham and Dilston" appears in Walter Besant's novel Dorothy Forster (1884). This is evidently drawn from the Alexander chapbook, however there is no reason to suppose that this scene was based on an actual Northumbrian performance. Besant came from Hampshire, and his description of the mummers' costumes is perhaps more in keeping with those of Hampshire than of Northumberland.

The reasons for the dearth of performances of this chapbook deserve further consideration. I suggest a couple of possibilities, and there may well be others. Firstly, it could be an accident of collection. The Newcastle editions are among the earliest Quack Doctor play texts that we have, having been published before folk plays attracted the attentions of antiquarians and folklorists. Any performances may not have been deemed worthy of note, and therefore we could have an unfortunate gap in the record that gives a false impression.

My second suggestion is based on the tendency for the presence of a given the text in performed folk plays to diminish by a process of evolution. Early folk plays appear to have been textually more fluid than plays after about the mid 19th century. Early troupes were happy to drop parts, insert new passages from stage plays and broadsides, and generally mess about with their scripts. Hence the proportion of material from any given text therefore tends to decrease over time. As the Alexander chapbooks were very early, by the time people began to collect folk play texts, the amount material remaining may have been a fraction of the original. There is evidence that may support this. Some texts from the north east of England and southern Scotland include certain verses from the chapbook, including the part for Alexander himself. But these are little more than traces, with the bulk of their scripts drawn from elsewhere.

Peter Millington

References

Walter Besant (1884) Dorothy Forster
The Graphic, 22nd Mar.1884, No.747, pp.285-286     [Full Text]

Walter Besant (1884) Dorothy Forster. A Novel.
London: Chatto & Windus, 1884, Vol.II, pp.41-44     [Full Text]

Peter Millington (1994-2006) Historical Database of Folk Play Scripts
Internet URL: http://www.folkplay.info/Texts.htm, 1999-2006, accessed 27th Jun.2009

Peter Millington (2002) The Origins and Development of English Folk Plays
PhD Thesis, University of Sheffield, May 2002     [Full Text PDF - 2.7MB]

M.J.Preston, M.G.Smith & P.S.Smith (1977) Chapbooks and Traditional Drama: An Examination of Chapbooks containing Traditional Play Texts: Part I: Alexander and the King of Egypt Chapbooks
CECTAL Bibliographical and Special Series, 1977, No.2
Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 1977, ISSN 0309-9229

J.White (1746-1769) Alexander and the King of Egypt. A Mock Play, As it is Acted by the Mummers every Christmas
Newcastle: J.White, [c.1746-1769]
[Transcript: http://www.folkplay.info/Texts/74nz26wh.htm, accessed 21st Nov.2009]

This map was generated from the Folk Play Text Relatives Tool.
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© 2009, Peter Millington. (Webmaster: peter.millington@mastermummers.org). Last updated: 12-Jul-2009