Mutes and professional mourners  

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This page Mutes and professional mourners is part of the death series. Cenotaph for Newton (1784) by French architect Étienne-Louis Boullée
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This page Mutes and professional mourners is part of the death series.
Cenotaph for Newton (1784) by French architect Étienne-Louis Boullée

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From about 1600 to 1914, there were two professions in Europe now almost totally forgotten. The mute is depicted in art quite frequently but in literature is probably best known from Dickens' "Oliver Twist". Oliver is working for Sowerberry's when this conversation takes place: "There's an expression of melancholy in his face, my dear ... which is very interesting. He would make a delightful mute, my love". The main purpose of a funeral mute was to stand around at funerals with a sad, pathetic face. A symbolic protector of the deceased, the mute would usually stand near the door of the home or church. In Victorian times, mutes would wear somber clothing including black cloaks, top hats with trailing hatbands, and gloves.

The professional mourner, generally a woman, would shriek and wail (often while clawing her face and tearing at her clothing), to encourage others to weep. These people are mentioned in ancient Greek plays, and were employed throughout Europe, but the practice largely died out in the nineteenth century. They continue to exist in Africa and the Middle East. The 2003 award-winning Philippine comedy Crying Ladies revolves around the lives of three women who are part-time professional mourners for the Chinese-Filipino community in Manila's Chinatown. According to the film, the Chinese use professional mourners to help expedite the entry of a deceased loved one's soul into heaven by giving the impression that he or she was a good and loving person, well-loved by many.





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