Summary of Characters

Foreman: So to summarise these are the bases of the Morris Dance; look out for them when you see the Dartington Men out and about.

A solo jig where an individual dancer shows off his skill (Ken, the squire usually does that).

I'm frequently requested to do solo jigs by people who remember my famous ones, but I usually refuse, not out of modesty but because the spectacle is pathetically laughable. One of my most famous is the "Hook Norton Jig" which can only be danced in or on Hook Norton. I say "on", because there's a beer called "Hook Norton". It's called that because its brewed by the Hook Norton brewery which is in Hook Norton.

The other is the one I did for her majesty the Queen of England. She didn't actually commission me to do that jig, she was going home one night in her Bentley after opening the Stratford Hilton Hotel and as she and Phillie were held up by traffic lights and I happened to have my Morris kit on at the time, I did her a quick jig. She waved enthusiastically at me but when I doffed my hat and rushed forward to take a collection the chauffeur sped away.

I'm told the Queen doesn't actually carry any money around, but I didn't know that at the time. She's probably afraid of being mugged.

A set dance where the dancers wave handkerchiefs and trace a pattern on the ground which can be fitted into the six mens' Morris board.

Robin: AHA what's that?

Foreman: The six man's Morris is a pattern which goes back to Roman and Celtic times. You've probably heard of the board game 9 men's Morris. You can get 9 men's Morris boards out of cereal packets. The six men's Morris board provides a pattern for all the evolutions or patterns of the Morris dance. You have to understand that the Morris is essentially not a mimetic dance. Although some dances appear to mimic real life actions such as "Bean Setting" and "Pram Pushing", Morris is an abstract concept related to pure mathematics and not to the imitation of everyday actions. It is in a dimension higher than the everyday and should by rights only be brought out on special occasions. Practised (i.e. rehearsed) throughout the year but brought out only once or twice per year to celebrate a calendar festival in a particular location.

The 6 Men's Morris board looks like this.

Interestingly when "Time Team" were up in the Cotswolds for one of their programmes they dug up a "portable altar" which was engraved with this pattern. I can't remember where the dig was because I didn't see all the programme but it was near Withington, I think. Now that is a place that has a special significance for the Morris. I took you guys there a couple of years ago to visit the splendid pub and I've taken a loved one there too. Withington used to have a Morris and the music has been written down and what the music indicates is the intricate delicacy of the Morris in terms of a larger structure, something that is realised only by knowing participants and aware audiences.

Stick dances where the participants engage in mock combat.

Sword dances where the swords are held by both ends whilst the dancers go through complicated manoeuvres. You can see that part of the whole tradition when the Dartington men perform their Rapper dances.

Additional Characters

Consisting of:

A hobby horse or a dragon

A giant or a jolly (ie very) green man or possibly a jolly (happy) green giant. (Unlikely to get a jolly jolly giant as there aren't many things in creation that are very happy.) This is basically a Robin Hood type figure who appears in many pageants. The Green Man or Woodwos (Forest Man) is documented on other web sites, so I'll not go into him here, although I could tell you more about him than I've told you about the Morris.

As I said, I don't want to say too much about this character, otherwise I'd go on all night.

This character is one which I and others hold very dear. One of his functions is to indicate to civilised man that one should always remember the eternal verities of the natural life and not get too far removed from the forces of nature.

The best expression of his significance is in the 14C Alliterative romance "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". That is an absolutely cracking poem. Constance the wife of John O'Gaunt is on record as having kept a "savage Knight" on the payroll of her court. His role was to act as a kind of wise court fool who would under mine the proud pretensions of the men of power and influence.

Here's the words of my song about the Woodwos or Forest Man.

The Song of the Woodwose

Where once the wood was there was I 
In the days of pure Romance it was.
When Ivy crowned my crisp curled hair 
and danced I to the Pan pipes noise

Hey nonny no, no, no
Now it is not so
And the problem has no matrix.
Thje expansive sway of my woodland realm 
Is reduced unto boxes of matchsticks.

My face is still seen outside pubs 
My debility's last trademark.
For who can rule a few garden shrubs
And still call himself a monarch.
Hey nonny no, no, no
Now it is no go
For I've faced my last indignity
There's oodles of weeds on my sacred trees
Encouraged by fat old ladies.

(By the way "The Archers, an everyday Story of Countryfolk" has never been the same since their resident Woodwos, Tom Forrest died. The actor who took the part used to live near me and was a well known luminary in the locality.

He used to give a little talk about the latest developments in farming before the Sunday omnibus edition of the programme which was worth more per 5 minutes that about 6 years of broadcasting fictional stories about Shula. Tom Forrest knew the country but there's never been a real farmer's daughter called "Shula" that I've ever heard of.

The only trouble with the talk was that you had to get somebody to tape the damn thing because it was at 10 o'clock on a Sunday morning and no farmer worth his salt would be able to listen to it at that time of the morning. I was always out doing at that time. The programme you listened to on a Sunday morning was the Radio Birmingham broadcast of Indian music which came on about 6.a.m. Absolutely cracking stuff. Complete and utter brilliance in every recording record broadcast.

A Saint George and a Turkish Knight come from Turkey land to fight.

A Maid Marian or a Man Woman or a Mad Moll or a Mad Woman called Marian.

Lots of the features which I've been talking about are evident in this 19C account of the Lichfield Morris and pageant .

To conclude then Robin my little chucker-mucker. The Morris is one element of a whole gamut of pageantry connected with the seasonal celebrations linked in the Christian calendar with Whitsun.

Elsewhere you will find how the church patronised the Morris up to the Reformation. The Morris was still going strong at the time of Shakespeare; you can tell that by all the references to it in plays of the time. In the Interregnum the Morris disappeared but the "old English" customs were brought back in with the restoration of Charles II. In the 18C the Morris was preserved mainly in the Midlands and it got patronage from "the big house".

Here's a good example showing dancers at Stowe.

Robin: So is all this pagan fertility rites bit a load of old eyewash ?

Foreman: Not at all. You've got to consider where the celebrations derive from even before they took the form which was adopted and adapted in England from the 14C onwards.

Navarre, Aragon, the Basque country all formed part of Provence in the old days, and Provence was a centre of medieval civilisation which preserved in the face of the threat of Moorish invasion and diseminated lots of facets of culture which we would now call "typically medieval". One important one which shows through in the ring dance to honour a lady is the notion of Romantic love. Just one example would be all that troubador poetry culminating in the "Romance of the Rose", putting the lady on a pedestal and being chivalrous and all that, that derives from the minstrels of Provence. That had a tremendous impact on poets all over Western Europe.

The business of celebrating Whitsun also goes way back. Have a look at "The Golden Bough" by Sir James Fraser. You'll see that this type of festival goes back to King Numa the first king of Rome, one of the original "Green Men" who having reigned for a year ,was turned out into the woods and had to await his successor who would murder him to become king in his turn. I better not go into all that though or it will turn your young mind to eternal verities.

What might look today like peripheral characters to the Morris are in fact central to the rite It's just that their significance now is only dimly perceived, "seen darkly as through a glass".

Old Back Before.

I must just tell you about this character, who was not in the original play collected in Dartington but who has just wandered in from somewhere else. (like me really) His lines are a classic of lambent dulness;

"In comes I old Back Before
I comes fust (first) to knock at your door,
I comes fust to kick up a dust'
I'm Back Before I'm here"

I went back down a narrow lane,
Forrards so's to come back again,
I come unto a pig iron house 
All thatched with brass candelabras.

I rattled the door and a maid came out
I asked if she had any buckets to fill
I winked me eye and she gave me a clout
As hard as a black smith's anvil.

She offered to me a crust of her ale
I chewed it hard it were somewhat stale
She offered a pint of bread and cheese
I said "Yes thanks" but I meant "No please"

Further on down I met two old men
A thrashing at cabbage stalks with the legs of a hen
One cut through a wall near five foot wide
And killed a dyud (that is "dead") dog on the other side.

The dog jumps up and wags his tail
So I loads up my Blunderybuss with a six inch nail
I levelled aim as he fled from me
But I nailed his shadow onto a tree.

 

Finally: Why so important?