Folk Play Distribution Map: Step/Enter/Walk/Come in [someone] and clear the way

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Click on the markers for information about the script(s).

Question Marks indicate uncertain or special locations.
Versions of this map: Interactive Google Map Static Google Map Outline Map
Key Variant
fuchsia step in [someone] and clear the way
lime enter in [someone] and clear the way
aqua walk in [someone] and boldly clear the way
silver come in [someone]and clear the way
View the key in more detail.
1. View the number of lines that use these formulae at each location
2. Resize the dots to reflect the number of lines that use these formulae
3. Omit known composite scripts prepared by literary authors
4. Omit chapbooks, broadsides & commercial texts

This map was generated from the Historical Database of Folk Play Scripts (Millington, 1994-2006).


The map shows the distribution of the second line of one of the more common formulaic couplets in British and Irish folk plays, in which one character calls on the next:

And if you don't believe what I say,
Enter in [someone] and clear the way


And if you don't believe the words I say,
Step in [someone] and clear the way

If you view the key in more detail, you can see that this formula is used to call in over two dozen different characters. However, by far the most commonly called in character is Saint/Prince/King George, which happens in about 70% of the mapped plays. The next most common characters are Beelzebub and Devil Doubt, a long way back at about 27% of plays, and the King of Egypt at about 20%. There are also some less frequent characters who are normally called in using this formula, notably many of the characters typical of Irish plays, Oliver Cromwell, St. Patrick, Johnny Funny, etc. The reason for this will become apparent shortly.

In addition to the character names varying, the initial verb, shown above in italics, also varies. What is interesting is that this variation is regional. 'Step in' is typical of Great Britain and does not occur in Ireland, where 'enter in' is the norm. Why the difference arose is an interesting question. It is tempting to suggest that it might be something to do with the method of performance. If actors are entering a house or room one at a time when they are required, 'enter in' seems most appropriate. Similarly, if all the actors enter at the same, and each character simply steps into the performance area, 'step in' also seems appropriate. However, these are subtly differences in meaning, and the evidence is not supportive.

In the south of England, there are also small concentrations of 'walk in' and 'come in'. The latter forms have probably been influenced an independent habit in that area introducing characters with an abrupt 'Walk in [someone]' - see separate map.

As with the first line of this couplet, the map becomes more interesting when the dots are resized to reflect the number of times the formula is used at each location. It is mostly used in ones and twos in Britain, but in Ireland it is used much more, almost for every character in the play. In these cases we have a chain where each character introduces the next that is similar to the calling on songs of linked sword dances. German sword dance scholars term this a Hereinrufungskette (calling-on chain). By way of contrast, the simple 'walk in someone' formula tends to be spoken by a leading character such as Father Christmas, who announces the characters in turn. The Germans call this alternative approach a Hereinrufungskamm (calling-on stem). These concepts have been explored in the folk play context by Tom Pettitt (1988, p.53).

Repetetive use of the formula provides a clue as to how the couplet evolved. Pettitt has shown that as oral traditions evolve:

"Over the long term, the trend clearly is towards ... a more impersonal, dramatic, and stark narrative, deploying more formulas and displaying more repetition patterns"

(Pettit, 2008, p.112)

This is as true for folk drama as it is for the ballads which he was discussing. From this we can infer that the Irish plays are more recent developments of the plays that only use the formula once or twice. Therefore 'step in' preceded 'enter in'. Where 'come in' fits in this genealogy remains open.

There are a few plays in the English North West that also use the formula multiple times. This is evidence of the influence of Irish plays, which Cass et al (2003) have shown were transferred into Manchester in chapbook form in the early 19th century and affected the surrounding traditions.

Peter Millington


Eddie Cass, Michael J.Preston & Paul Smith (2003) The Peace Egg Book: An Anglo-Irish Chapbook Connection Discovered
Folklore, 2003, Vol.114, No.1, pp.29-52

Peter Millington (1994-2006) Historical Database of Folk Play Scripts
Internet URL:, 1999-2006, accessed 27th Jun.2009

Tom Pettitt (1988) Ritual and Vaudeville: The Dramaturgy of the English Folk Plays
Traditional Drama Studies, 1998, Vol.2, pp.45-68

Tom Pettitt (2008) From Journalism to Gypsy Folk Song: The Road to Orality of an English Ballad
Oral Traditional, 2008, Vol.23, No.1, pp.87-117     [PDF download, Accessed 19th Nov.2009]

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© 2009, Peter Millington. (Webmaster: Last updated: 19-Nov-2009