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Shakespeare & Beyond

All the table's a stage: A 1619 Christmas play for food

A Christmas Messe
A Christmas Messe

This early modern manuscript from the Folger collection sets forth an unconventional Christmas play, in which the characters are different foods warring against one another for pride of place at the Christmas feast.

A Christmas Messe was written in 1619, likely for a student performance at Oxford for the holiday season. References to university life are sprinkled throughout, including a lengthy jab at freshmen, or the “stinking, countless rabble.” The play would have been performed in one of the college halls and, especially considering the subject material, probably preceded the holiday feast.

A Christmas Messe

A Christmas Messe. Folger Shakespeare Library. J.a.1 (9)

In form and style, the play is a mock-heroic struggle for power, full of boasting, insults, loyal servitude, and self-pitying monologues. There is even a lovely lady’s favor to be fought over. The genre is made absurd, however, by the fact that the characters are actually different foods, or in some cases familiar objects associated with dining. The main plot involves King Beefe’s attempt to usurp the privilege of King Brawne to be served first at the Christmas feast. Brawne—boar’s meat—was the most highly prized dish at Renaissance holiday feasts and was often ceremoniously paraded in at the start of the meal. In the play, this privilege is fought over just as a throne would be.


Any chance of there being a downloadable typescript of this play someday? I can see it as a welcome change from all the Christmas Carols on the community-theater stage or for a staged reading at a party for English faculties/grad students….

Ruth Anne Baumgartner — December 19, 2017

I really want to read this play. It’s so full of Twelfth-Nightery!
Give us a big fat festive treat!

Shiela MacLean — December 29, 2017

I second the request, and volunteer to make said electronic edition of the script.

Tony Tambasco — December 22, 2017

I, too, would love a typescript for the Folger docents to perform.

Lawrence Plotkin — December 28, 2017

Lawrence, this is beginning to look like a movement! How can we actually help it happen?

Ruth Anne Baumgartner — December 28, 2017

I would love to see this in it’s entirety. Please make it available.

Yonnie Travis — December 28, 2017

A whole year late: yes! Me too! Please make a readable typescript available, this could be fun!

Patrick Porter — December 23, 2018

Please add me to the list of those wanting to read and produce this play! What merriment would ensue!

Becki Jones — January 4, 2019