Performing community

Village life and the spectacle of worship in the work of Charles Marson

Authored by: Katie Palmer Heathman

The Routledge Companion to English Folk Performance

Print publication date:  July  2021
Online publication date:  July  2021

Print ISBN: 9780367279929
eBook ISBN: 9780429299063
Adobe ISBN:


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Charles Marson is known to scholars of the folk revival as the parson in whose vicarage garden Cecil Sharp heard his first folksong. Marson was a Christian socialist, a radical who believed that ‘worship and every other communal act [is] essentially dramatic’. Marson’s involvement in the folk revival was deeply linked with his espousal of Christian socialism. He believed in common culture as a bond linking strong communities, which were to him the basis of a healthy society. Marson ultimately found folksong inadequate, but his interest in folk culture and in the lives of his rural parishioners remained. Until his death in 1914, Marson facilitated yearly ‘Shepherd’s Plays’, improvised versions of the nativity story acted by parishioners in their own words and incorporating contemporary concerns. He published a transcription of one play, and this chapter examines this alongside his work in the folk revival and his final publication, Village Silhouettes. It reveals the complex relationship between Marson’s interest in folk culture, particularly in performance as an embodiment of community, and his belief in the social gospel as taught through the incarnation, including Marson’s insistence on the dramatic and performative aspects of public worship.

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