Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-5wvtr Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-20T01:29:37.739Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Writing the Unwritten: Morris Dance and the Study of Medieval Theatre

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 July 2009

Extract

During the course of her summer's progress in 1575, Elizabeth I spent nineteen days at Kenilworth, the Earl of Leicester's Castle in Warwickshire, where she was presented with various entertainments—including plays, fireworks, bear-baitings, water-pageants, acrobatic performances, and dancing—at a cost of over a thousand pounds a day, as part of what has been called “unquestionably sixteenth-century England's grandest and most extravagant party.” Robert Langham, a minor court functionary who wrote an eyewitness account of the party, describes a “lyvely morisdauns” that was featured in this festive show of fealty to the queen. According to Langham, the morris performed for Elizabeth was danced “acording too the auncient manner” and featured “six daunserz, Mawdmarion, and the fool.” The dance was part of a bride-ale procession made up of “lusty lads and bolld bachelarz of the parish” arranged two by two in “marciall order,” who preceded sixteen horsemen and the bridegroom; after the horsemen came the morris dance, followed by three “prety puzels” carrying spicecakes and leading the bride (“ill smellyng” and “ugly fooul ill favord”), who was accompanied by “too auncient parishionerz, honest toounsmen” and a dozen bridesmaids. The procession marched to the castle in the great court in which a quintain had been set up for feats of arms; when these games were concluded, a performance of the traditional Hock Tuesday play from nearby Coventry was enacted. Though these festivities were staged outside her window, apparently the queen did not see much of them because, Langham tells us, “her highnes behollding in the chamber delectabl dauncing indeed: and heerwith the great throng and unruliness of the peopl, waz cauz that this solemnitee of Brydeale and dauncing had not the full muster waz hoped for” (11. 722–26). Elizabeth asked that the Hocktide play be performed again for her on the following Tuesday; Langham does not mention whether or not the morris dance was also repeated for the queen's pleasure.

Type
Articles
Copyright
Copyright © American Society for Theatre Research 1997

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

1. R. J. P. Kuin, “Introduction,” Robert Langham, A Letter, introduction, notes, and commentary by R. J. P. Kuin (Leiden: Brill, 1983), 16.

2. Langham, , Letter, II. 498564Google Scholar.

3. See Heaney, Michael, “From Kingston to Kenilworth: Early Plebeian Morris,” Folklore 100 (1989), 102, for a similar reading of the Kenilworth morris danceCrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4. This was not the first morris dance Elizabeth had watched. Henry Machyn describes a May game by the London parish of Saint John Zachary at Midsummer, 24 June 1559, which included a giant, guns, morris dancers, and pageants of the Nine Worthies, Saint George and the dragon, and Robin Hood. The May game was later played for Elizabeth at Greenwich. See The Diary of Henry Machyn, ed. Nichols, John G., Camden Society 42 (London: J. B. Nichols, 1848), 201Google Scholar.

5. Peter H. Greenfield's discussion of Christmas entertainments performed in aristocratic households as mechanisms for cementing relations between locals and lords is also relevant to the social dynamics of the festivities at Kenilworth; see his “Festive Drama at Christmas in Aristocratic Households,” Festive Drama, ed. Twycross, Meg (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1996), 3453Google Scholar.

6. Two other pamphlets describing the Kenilworth festivities were also published: The Pastime of the Progresse, now lost, and George Gascoigne's The Princely Pleasures at the Courte at Kenelwoorth. Gascoigne's pamphlet was apparently written for a “gentle” audience and dismisses the popular entertainments, including the “countrie shewe” and “the merry marriage” as “so plaine as needeth no further explication;” see Cunliffe, J. W., ed., The Complete Works of George Gascoigne (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910), 2:106Google Scholar.

7. For a succinct discussion of these developments and their consequences for the study of medieval drama, see Kathleen M. Ashley, “Cultural Approaches to Medieval Drama,” Approaches to Teaching Medieval English Drama, ed. Richard Emmerson (New York: MLA, 1990), 64–65. Glynne Wickham sees 1576 as a “watershed year” for medieval theater, because that marks the establishment of permanent playhouses as well as the date of the central government's suppression of religious drama; see his Early English Stages, 1300 to 1660 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981), 3: xix.

8. For a useful discussion of the difficulties of studying dance as well as an argument in favor of making dance research a part of the project of cultural studies, see Desmond, Jane C., “Embodying Difference: Issues in Dance and Cultural Studies,” Cultural Critique 26 (19931994): 3363CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9. See Heaney, “Kingston,” 96. For the 1530 record, see Palmer, P., The Church of the Holy Trinity, Guildford (1886), 8Google Scholar.

10. Skillful and creative use of the findings of archival projects can restore some of this situational density, but that does not lessen the degree of erasure of context that has taken place in the process of gathering archival information.

11. Chandler, Keith, “Ribbons, Bells and Squeaking Fiddles:” The Social History of Morris Dancing in the English South Midlands, 1660–1900 (London: Folklore Society, 1993)Google Scholar.

12. Judge, Roy, “Merrie England and the Morris, 1881–1910,” Folklore 104 (1993), 124CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13. For instance, the dancers on the famous Betley window (c. 1500–1520) are usually assumed to be “morris dancers,” but this assumption is based, as best I can ascertain, on later understandings of what morris dancers looked like; see Davidson, Clifford, Illustrations of the Stage and Acting in England to 1580 (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 1991), 9498Google Scholar. Nonetheless, when new costumes were made in the late nineteenth century for the Abbots Bromley Horn Dancers, they were based on the window, which was taken to represent what morris dancers were supposed to look like rather than on morris costumes in use by the village dancers; see Judge, “Merrie England,” 132–133.

14. See Chandler, “Ribbons,”11.

15. The most thorough argument for the pan-European folk origins of morris dancing is Violet Alford, , Sword Dance and Drama (London: Merlin Press, 1962)Google Scholar.

16. See Forrest, John and Heaney, Michael, “Charting Early Morris,” Folk Music Journal 6 (1991), 169Google Scholar. It is possible that these objects were made on the continent, as Chandler, “Ribbons,” 42, notes. What might be morris dancers also appear on the mid-fifteenth-century roof bosses at the Guildhall in York; see Davidson, , Illustrations of the Stage, 162, n.75Google Scholar.

17. See Douch, H. L., “Household Accounts at Lanherne,” Journal of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, n.s. 2, no. 1 (1953), 2729Google Scholar; cited in Chandler, “Ribbons,” 42.

18. Johnson, A. H., The History of the Worshipful Company of the Drapers of London (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1915), 2:273Google Scholar.

19. This question is raised by Wasson, John in the introduction to Records of Early English Drama: Devon, ed. Wasson, John (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986), xix-xxGoogle Scholar.

20. See Records of Early English Drama: Chester, ed. Clopper, Lawrence M. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979), 137, 69, and lii-liiiGoogle Scholar.

21. Records of Early English Drama: Newcastle, ed. Anderson, J. J. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 139Google Scholar.

22. Records of Early English Drama: Cumberland, Westmorland, Gloucestershire, ed. Douglas, Audrey and Greenfield, Peter (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1986), 359Google Scholar.

23. Records of Early English Drama: Shropshire, ed. Somerset, Alan B. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), 1:239Google Scholar.

24. Forrest and Heaney, “Charting,” 170.

25. Stubbes, Philip, Anatomie of Abuses (London: Richard Jones, 1583), fols. 92v-93rGoogle Scholar.

26. For a discussion of Kemp's dance, see Thomas, Max, “Kemps Nine Daies Wonder: Dancing Carnival into Market,” PMLA 107 (1992): 511523CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27. See Baskervill, Charles Read, The Elizabethan Jig and Related Song Drama (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1929)Google Scholar.

28. Theresa Coletti's critique of the REED project is relevant here; see her “Reading REED: History and the Records of Early English Drama,” Literary Practice and Social Change in Britain, 1380–1530, ed. Patterson, Lee (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 248284Google Scholar.

29. Forrest and Heaney, Annals of Early Morris (based on the Early Morris Project) (Sheffield: Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language, University of Sheffield, 1991), for example, include mentions of morris in masques, interludes, and other entertainments, but not in plays; they also do not include general prohibitions against dancing. See Forrest and Heaney, “Charting,” 174.

30. See the discussion of these works in Baskervill, Elizabethan Jig, 365.

31. Heaney, “Kingston,” 99–100.

32. See the charts of social/geographic distribution in Forrest and Heaney, “Charting,” 179–185.

33. Pettitt, Thomas, “English Folk Drama in the Eighteenth Century: A Defense of the Revesby Sword Play,” Comparative Drama 15 (1981), 6CrossRefGoogle Scholar, has argued that most folk performances involve performers who are of a lower status than their audience as part of “the relationship between such socially adjacent and interdependent groups.”

34. See Heaney, “Kingston,” 92.

35. Kerry, C., A History of the Municipal Church of St Lawrence, Reading (Reading: The author, 1883), 227Google Scholar.

36. Records of Early English Drama: Devon, 108, 118, and 122–123.

37. North, T., The Accounts of the Churchwardens of St Martin's, Leicester (Leicester: S. Clarke, 1884), 80Google Scholar; Farmiloe, J.E. and Nixseaman, Rosita, Elizabethan Churchwardens' Accounts, Bedfordshire Historical Record Society 33 (Bedford: The Society, 1953), 67Google Scholar; Winterslow churchwardens' account, MS, 45; all cited in Heaney, “Kingston,” 100.

38. Blair, L., Dramatic Activity of the Church as Seen in English Churchwardens' Accounts and Other Archival Sources of the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteen Centuries, Ph.D. thesis, Yale University, 1933, 358Google Scholar; cited in Heaney, “Kingston,” 99.

39. British Library Add. MS 12222, f.5; cited in Heaney, “Kingston,” 99.

40. Machyn, Henry, The Diary of Henry Machyn, ed. Nichols, John G., Camden Society 42 (London: J. B. Nichols, 1848), 20, 89, and 201, respectivelyGoogle Scholar.

41. Morris dancing in the sixteenth century apparently featured abrupt movement. In Act 4 of John a Kent and John a Cumber, the leader of the morris dance says “Let us jerk it over the greene;” quoted in Baskervill, Elizabethan Jig, 353.

42. For a discussion of the political/ceremonial uses of street pageants, see Bergeron, David M., “Pageants, Politics, and Patrons,” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 6 (1993): 139152Google Scholar.

43. See Machyn, , Diary, 13–14. Sydney Anglo, Spectacle, Pageantry, and Early Tudor Policy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), 308Google Scholar, notes that it was probably no coincidence that the next public entertainment at Tower Hill was the beheading of Somerset.

44. Machyn, Diary, 33.

45. Heaney, “Kingston,” 94.

46. Herbert, William, The History of the Twelve Great Livery Companies of London (London, 1831 and 1834; reprint, New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1968), 1:455Google Scholar.

47. Robertson, J. and Gordon, D. J., A Calendar of the Dramatic Records in the Books of the Livery Companies of London, 1485–1640, Malone Society Collections 3 (London: Oxford University Press, 1954), 11, 12, 17, 19, 20, and 32Google Scholar.

48. British Library MS Harley 2150; discussed in Mills, David, “Chester's Midsummer Show: Creation and Adaptation,” Festive Drama, ed. Twycross, Meg (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1996), 134Google Scholar.

49. Records of Early English Drama: Chester, 69 and 137.

50. Mills, “Chester's Midsummer Show,” especially 135 and 137.

51. Public Record Office, E 36/217, fols.33–40; cited in Anglo, Spectacle, 118. Though earlier dances at courtly disguisings are not specifically designated morris dancing, they might have been, because they resemble this one in so many ways, once again suggesting difficulties in delineating what was and what was not a morris dance.

52. The play was largely the work of John Rowe, sergeant at law; Wolsey believed it was about him and had Rowe sent to Fleet Prison along with one of the actors. See Hall, Edward, Chronicle, ed. Ellis, Henry (London, 1809), 719Google Scholar; discussed in Anglo, Spectacle, 238–239.

53. See Cressy, David, Bonfires and Bells: National Memory and the Protestant Calendar in Elizabethan and Stuart England (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989), 6780Google Scholar, on bell ringing as a crucial part of festive celebrations that carried political overtones.

54. Billington, Sandra, Mock Kings in Medieval Society and Renaissance Drama (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), 2728Google Scholar.

55. See Bourdieu, Pierre, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Nice, Richard (London: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 158183CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56. Bristol, Michael D., Carnival and Theatre: Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England (London: Methuen, 1985), 52Google Scholar.

57. Greenfield, “Festive Drama,” 37.

58. Baskervill, , Elizabethan Jig, 362Google Scholar, observes that “morris” often seemed to refer to any “folk dance serving as a kind of antimasque;” that is, morris suggested a form of ritual disorder, like the antimasque enveloped within the more orderly masque.

59. REED: Devon, 126.

60. Heaney, “Kingston,” 98. When Mary Tudor came to power in 1553, she ordered the restoration of altars, images, and festive performances as a real and symbolic reinstitution of the old faith abolished under the protestant reforms of the 1540s and early 1550s. The response from Saint Lawrence's in Reading describes how morris costumes had been lost or sold; see Kerry, History, 227.

61. Robertson, and Gordon, , Calendar, 17Google Scholar.

62. Haskins, C., The Ancient Trade Guilds and Companies of Salisbury (Salisbury: Bennett Brothers, 1912), 171172Google Scholar; cited in Heaney, “Kingston,” 100.

63. Both examples cited in Heaney, “Kingston,” 100–101.

64. London's great maypole was in Cornhill until it was cut down in 1644; Cressy, Bonfires, 22.

65. Coverdale, Miles, The Olde Faythe [Antwerp: M. Crom?], 1541Google Scholar, sig. *ij verso; quoted in Heaney, “Kingston,” 96.

66. Berkshire Record Office, D/A2/C.16, fol. 89, cited in Johnston, Alexandra F., “‘All the World was a Stage:’ Records of Early English Drama,” The Theatre of Medieval Europe: New Research in Early Drama, ed. Simon, Eckehard (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 121122Google Scholar.

67. Historical Manuscripts Commission, Calendar of Cecil MSS. at Hatfield House (London, 1899), 8:201Google Scholar; cited in Cressy, Bonfires, 23.

68. Discussed in Underdown, David, Revel, Riot, and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England, 1603–1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), 55Google Scholar.

69. Hackwood, Frederick W., Staffordshire Customs, Superstitions and Folklore (Lichfield, 1924), 1617Google Scholar.

70. Cited in Jansson, Maija, Proceedings in Parliament 1614 (House of Commons) (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1982), 316Google Scholar.

71. Records of Early English Drama: Shropshire, 1:310312Google Scholar.

72. Burton, Henry, Tryall of Private Devotions (London, 1628), sig. F2Google Scholar.

73. Wood, Anthony, The life and Times of Anthony Wood, Antiquary, of Oxford, 1632–1695, ed. Clark, Andrew (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1891), 1:299Google Scholar.

74. Records of Wiltshire, 221–222; cited in Underdown, Revel, 264.

75. England's Joy, Or, A Relation of the Most Remarkable Passages, from His Majesty's Arrival at Dover, to His Entrance at Whitehall, in Frith, C. H., ed., An English Garner: Stuart Tracts 1603–1693 (Westminster: Constable, 1903), 428Google Scholar.

76. See Judge, Roy, “D' Arcy Ferris and the Bidford Morris,” Folk Music Journal 4 (1984): 443480Google Scholar.

77. City Press, 8 May 1886, p. 1; quoted in Judge, “Merrie England,” 126.

78. Quoted in Judge, “Merrie England,” 131.

79. See Speaight, Robert, William Poel and the Elizabethan Revival (London: Heinemann, 1954)Google Scholar.

80. The information in this paragraph comes from Whisnant, David E., All That is Native and Fine (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983), 79, 49–50, and 209–230Google Scholar; the newspaper article is quoted on 202.

81. Flanigan, C. Clifford, “Comparative Literature and the Study of Medieval Drama,” Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature 35 (1986), 58Google Scholar.

82. For an account of recent American morris teams, see Schwartz, David M., “Morris Dancers Are Coming and So It Must Be May,” Smithsonian 12 (May 1981): 118125Google Scholar. I wish to thank my colleague, Tami Kaplan, for sharing her collection of material on modern morris dancing teams.