The Pace Egg Play

Children”Pace Egging” in Hebden Bridge.

The Pace Egg Plays are traditional village plays, with a rebirth theme, in which St George smites all challengers and the fool, Toss Pot, rejoices. The drama takes the form of a combat between the hero and villain, in which the hero is killed and brought to life, often by a quack doctor.

The plays take place in England during Easter; indeed, the word ‘Pace’ comes from the old English word ‘pasch’ literally meaning ‘Easter’, but have also been known to have been performed at other religious celebrations such as Christmas.

The origins of the Pace Egg is lost in history, but is thought that it originally started as an allegory for the changing of the seasons and particularly the battle between winter and spring.

Pace Egging was an important street calendar custom, with groups of young players clashing their wooden or iron swords in the mock battles. Each band of players would usually include around six to nine boys, drawn from one or more streets within a small locality.

The act was performed in the round, often with one of the characters using a broom to “sweep the area clear” of onlookers and define the area for the actors to perform.

As in many medieval pagents, the act ends with the appearance of two devils to extort donations from the crowd.

The example script below recorded in  Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports” by John  Harland and T. T. Wilkinson  was a piece written for and enacted at Christmas.

 

 

 

ACT I.

Enter Actors.

Fool, — Room, room, brave gallants ! give us room to sport;
For in this room we wish for to resort —
Resort, and to repeat to you our merry rhyme,
For remember, good sirs, this is Christmas-time.
The time to cut up goose-pies now doth appear,
So we are come to act our merry Christmas here,
At the sound of the trumpet, and beat of the drum:
Make room, brave gentlemen, and let our actors come.
We are the merry actors that traverse the street ;
We are the merry actors that fight for our meat ;
We are the merry actors that show pleasant play :
Step in, St George, thou champion, and clear the way.

Enter St George.

I am St George, who from old England sprung ;
My famous name throughout the world hath rung ;
Many bloody deeds and wonders have I made known
And made the tyrants tremble pn their throne.
I followed a fair lady to a giant’s gate,
Confined in dungeon deep, to meet her fate ;
Then I resolved, with true knight-errantry.
To burst the door, and set the prisoner firee,
When a giant almost struck me dead,
But by my valour I cut off his head.
I ‘ve searched the world all round and round.
But a man to equal me I never found.

Enter Slasher to St George.

Slasher, — I am a valiant soldier, and Slasher is my name;
With sword and buckler by my side, I hope to win the game;
And for to fight with me I see thou art not able,
So with my trusty broad-sword I soon will thee disable.

St George. — Disable ! disable ! it lies not in thy power,
For with my glittering sword and spear I soon will thee devour.
Stand off ! Slasher I let no more be said,
For if I draw my sword I’m sure to break thy head.

Slasher, — How canst thou break my head?
Since it be made of iron,
And my body’s made of steel.
My hands and feet of knuckle-bone,
I challenge thee to the field.

(They fight, and Slasher is wounded. — Exit St George.)

Enter Fool to Slasher.

Fool, — Alas! alas! my chiefest son is slain;
What must I do to raise him up again?
Here he lies in the presence of you all;
I’ll lovingly for a doctor call.
(Aloud) A doctor! a doctor! ten pounds for a doctor.
I’ll go and fetch a doctor (going).

Enter Doctor.

Doctor. — Here am I

Fool, — Are you the doctor ?

Doctor, — Yes ; that you may plainly see
By my art and activity.

Fool, — Well, what’s your fee to cure this man?

Doctor. — Ten pounds is my fee :
But, Jack, if thou be an honest man,
I’ll only take five off thee.

Fool, — You’ll be wondrous cunning if you get any (aside).
Well, how far have you travelled in doctorship?

Doctor, — From Italy, Titaly [Sicily], High Germany, France, and Spain,
And now am returned to cure diseases in Old England again.

Fool, — So far, and no further ?

Doctor, — O yes! a great deal further.

Fool, — How far?

Doctor, — From the fireside cupboard up-stairs and into bed.

Fool, — What diseases can you cure?

Doctor, — All sorts.

Fool, — What’s all sorts ?

Doctor, — The itch, the pitch, the palsy, and the gout,
If a man gets nineteen devils in his skull, I’ll cast twenty of them out
I have in my.pockets crutches for lame ducks,
spectacles for blind humble-bees,
packsaddles and panniers for grasshoppers,
and plasters for broken-backed mice.
I cured Sir Harry of a hang-nail, almost fifty yards long; surely I can cure this poor man.

Here, Jack; take a little out of my bottle,
And let it run down thy throttle ;
If thou be not quite slain,
Rise, Jack, and fight again. (Slasher rises,)

Slasher, — O my back !

Fool, — What’s amiss with thy back?

Slasher, — My back it is wounded,
And my heart is confounded.
To be struck out of seven senses into fourscore,
The like was never seen in old England before !

Enter St George,

O hark! St George, I hear the silver trumpet sound,
That summons us from off this bloody ground:
Down yonder is the way (pointing).
Farewell, St George! we can no longer stay.

Exeunt Slasher, Doctor, and Fool.

 

 

ACT II.

St George. — I am St George, that noble champion bold,
And with my trusty sword I won ten thousand pounds in gold;
Twas I that fought the fiery dragon, and brought him to the slaughter,
And by those means I won the King of Egypt’s daughter.

Enter Prince of Paradine [Palestine],

Prince, — I am Black Prince of Paradine, bom of high renown.
Soon I will fetch St George’s lofty courage down;
Before St George shall be received by me,
St George shall die to all eternity.

St George, — Stand off, thou black Morocco dog,
Or by my sword thou It die,
I’ll pierce thy body full of holes,
And make thy buttons fly.

Prince, — Draw out thy sword and slay,
Pull out thy purse and pay.
For I will have a recompense
Before I go away.

St George, — Now Prince Paradine, where have you been,
And what fine sights pray have you seen?
Dost think that no man of thy age
Dares such a black as thee engage?
Lay down thy sword, take to me a spear,
And then I’ll fight thee without dread or fear.

(They fight and the Prince of Paradine is slain,)

St George, — Now Prince of Paradine is dead.
And all his joys entirely fled.
Take him and give him to the flies,
And never more come near my eyes.

Enter King of Egypt.

King, — I am the King of Egypt, as plainly doth appear;
I ‘m come to seek my son, my son and only heir,

St George, — He is slain!

King, — Who did him slay, who did him kill,
And on the ground his precious blood did spill?

St George, — I did him slay, I did him kill,
And on the ground his precious blood did spill,
Please you, my liege, my honour to maintain;
Had you been there you might have fared the same.

King. — Cursed Christian! what is this thou’st done?
Thou hast ruined me, and slain my only son.

St George. — He gave me a challenge : why should I it deny?
How high he was, but see how low he lies!

King, — O Hector! Hector! help me with speed,
For in my life I never stood more need.

Enter Hector.

And stand not there with sword in hand,
But rise and fight at my command.

Hector. — Yes, yes, my liege, I will obey;
And by my sword I hope to win the day.
If that be he who doth stand there
That slew my master’s son and heir.
If he be sprung from royal blood,
I’ll make it run like Noah’s flood.

St George. — Hold, Hector ! do not be so hot,
For here thou knowest not who thou’st got;
For I can tame thee of thy pride.
And lay thine anger too aside.
Inch thee and cut thee as small as flies,
And send thee over sea to make mince-pies,
Mince-pies hot and mince-pies cold,
I’ll send thee to Black Sam before thou’rt three days old!

Hector, — How canst thou tame me of my pride,
And lay mine anger too aside.
Inch me, and cut me as small as flies.
Send me over the sea to make mince-pies,
Mince-pies hot, mince-pies cold,
How canst thou send me to Black Sam before I’m three days old ?

Since my head is made of iron,
My body^s made of steel,
My hands and feet of knuckle-bone,
I challenge thee to the field.

(They fight and Hector is wounded)

I am a valiant knight, and Hector is my name,
Many bloody battles have I fought, and always won the same.
But from St George I received this bloody wound,

{A trumpet sounds)

Hark! hark! I hear the silver trumpet sound;
Down yonder is the way (pointing).
Farewell, St George ! I can no longer stay. (Exit.)

Enter Fool to St George.

St George, — Here comes from post, Old Bold Ben.

Fool. — Why, master, did ever I take you to be my friend?

St George, — Why, Jack, did ever I do thee any harm?

Fool — Thou proud saucy coxcomb, begone!

St. George, — A coxcomb! I defy that name!
With a sword thou ought to be stabbed for the same.

Fool — To be stabbed is the least I fear;
Appoint your time and place, I’llmeet you there.

St George, — I’ll cross the water at the hour of five,
And meet you there, sir, if I be alive. (Exit,)

Enter Beelzebub.

Here come I, Beelzebub,
And over my shoulders I carry my club
And in my hand a dripping pan,
And I think myself a jolly old man ;
And if you don’t believe what I say.
Enter in Devil Doubt, and clear the way.

Enter Devil Doubt,

Here come I, little Devil Doubt,
If you do not give me money, I’ll sweep you all out
Money I want, and money I crave;
If you do not give me money,I’ll sweep you all to the grave.

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