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Voices Fall-Winter, 2000:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read an excerpt of “I do? Northern New York’s Mock Weddings,” by Brenda Verardi here.
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Volume 26

I do? Northern New York's Mock Weddings

Burlesque parodies of weddings are performed in small villages in Jefferson County, New York, which lies in the St. Lawrence River valley on the western edge of the Adirondacks. First organized more than thirty years ago by sisters who came from a rural, patriarchal family and enjoyed few opportunities outside the home, the mock wedding gave its producers a way to express discontent with their domestic roles. Examining a 1995 performance, this investigation finds that the mock wedding is a parodic expression that inverts the sacred wedding ritual into a secular celebration. Incorporating every category of humor from satire to irony, it creates a safe, nonthreatening forum in which shifts in perception about gender roles can occur.
Photo from mock wedding

Photo from mock wedding
Photo from mock wedding

Photo from mock wedding
In a firehall kitchen, men don dresses and wigs, and the women, flannel shirts, pipes, and farmers’ hats, all in preparation for the mock wedding’s reversal of roles. The minister is the one actor who represents a "social other," and in the Davis family productions, the role is always played by a woman. Photos: Brenda and Peter Verardi.
“When a man dressed like a bride responds “I do” to “Do you take this ball and chain to have and to hold for the rest of your life?” the women are making him express the ambivalence they feel.” mock bride
The demure bride in the mock wedding is actually a young man. All the participants cross-dress in caricature of their opposite-sex counterparts. Photo: Brenda and Peter Verardi
photo from mock wedding

Bawdy behavior and grotesque parody give the players license to comment on their lot in life. In the ludic tradition, inversion allows the disadvantaged class to express its frustration, and the advantaged members to feel a small measure of oppression, before the social order is resumed. Photos: Brenda and Peer Verardi.

photo from mock wedding
“The performance subverts both the sacred ritual of marriage and societal expectations regarding men and women’s roles, with the goal of bringing harmony to a world of choices and oppositions.”

“In the mock wedding, clowning during the processional sets the stage, and the cross-dressing tears down inhibitions, giving the troupe verbal license and inverting but not disrupting the social order.”

Brenda Verardi is a doctoral candidate in humanistic studies at SUNY-Albany. Her particular interests in American regional and family history led her to research the mock weddings, which, as she notes in this article, allow women’s voices to be heard. She lives on Saratoga Lake in Saratoga Springs.Brenda Verardi


Abrahams, Roger D. 1972. Folk drama. In Folklore and folklife, ed. Richard Dorson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Babcock, Barbara. 1978. Introduction. In The reversible world: Symbolic inversion in art and society, ed. Barbara Babcock. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Barber, C. L. 1959. Shakespeare’s festive comedy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. 1978. Women on top: Symbolic sexual inversion and political disorder in early modern Europe. In The reversible world: Symbolic inversion in art and society, ed. Barbara Babcock. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Gluckman, Max. 1963. Rituals of rebellion in Southeast Asia. London: Butler & Tanner.

Greenhill, Pauline. 1988. Folk drama in Anglo Canada and the mock wedding: Transaction, performance and meaning. Canadian Drama 14(2):172-73.

_________. 1995. Neither a man nor a maid: Sexualities and gendered meanings in cross-dressing ballads. Journal of American Folklore 108(428):165.

Osterud, Nancy Grey. 1991. Bonds of community: The lives of farm women in nineteenth-century New York. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Taft, Michael. 1989. Folk drama on the Great Plains: The mock wedding in Canada and the United States. North Dakota History. 14(2):17-23.

_________. Forthcoming. Men in women’s clothes: Theatrical transvestism on the Canadian prairie. In Undisciplined women: The (Dis) place (ment) of female traditional culture in Canada. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press.

Turner, Victor. 1978. Comments and Conclusions. In The reversible world: Symbolic inversion in art and society, ed. Barbara Babcock. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Wheeler, Richard. 1988. Introduction. In Creating Elizabethan tragedy: The theater of Marlowe and Kyd, C. L. Barber. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

The full article, that we have excerpted here, appeared in Voices Vol. 26, Fall-Winter, 2000. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.

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