The Kirk, the Burgh, and Fun


  • John J. McGavin University of Southampton



'The Kirk, the Burgh, and Fun' is based on work done in the sixteenth and very early seventeenth-century burgh and kirk records of Haddington in Scotland. It seeks to use these records to qualify sabbatarian pronouncements, which were intended to occlude the individual but were forced constantly to confront it. It argues for the messiness of cultural movements as they are lived and uses the records as a means to avoid silencing the motives, rebellions, resentments, self-deceptions, and aspirations of the individuals and institutions which were seeking to promote or defend their interests during a time of change. Sabbatarian pressure against a wide range of recreational activities is shown to be a means of negotiating institutional power between a variety of groups; a device for resolving secular problems; a trick for deflecting attention from erring ministers, and a tactic for preserving urban interests against the country. This complex web of interests and principles produces individual ironies, and the paper contrasts the activity of Haddington's one-time schoolmaster and play director, James Carmichael, who, as he reformist minister of the town, was chosen to subdue the author of a local May play (here named for the first time).