1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Morris-Dance

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MORRIS-DANCE, or Morrice-Dance (Span. Morisco, Moorish), an old English dance, which is said by various authorities to have been introduced by John of Gaunt from Spain or borrowed from the French or Flemings. That it was a development of the morisco-dance or Spanish fandango is not invalidated by the fact that the morisco was for one person only, for, although latterly the morris-dance was represented by various characters, uniformity in this respect was not always observed. There are few references to it earlier than the reign of Henry VII., but it would appear that in the reign of Henry VIII. it was an almost essential part of the principal village festivities. In earlier times it was usually danced by live men and a boy dressed in a girl's habit, who was called Maid Marian. There were also two musicians; and, at least sometimes, one of the dancers, more gaily and richly dressed than the others, acted as “ foreman of the morris.” The garments of the dancers were ornamented with bells tuned to different notes so as to sound in harmony. Robin Hood, Friar Tuck and Little John were characters extraneous to the original dance, and were introduced when it came to be associated with the May-games. At Betley, in Staffordshire, there is a painted window, of the time of Henry VIII. or earlier, portraying the morris—the characters including Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, the hobby-horse, the piper, the tabourer, the fool and five other persons apparently representing various ranks or callings. The hobby-horse, which, latterly at least, was one of the principal characters of the dance, consisted of a wooden figure attached to the person of the actor, who was covered with trappings reaching to the ground, so as to conceal his feet. The morris-dance was abolished along with the May-games and other festivities by the Puritans, and, although revived at the Restoration, the pageant gradually degenerated in character and declined in importance. Maid Marian latterly was personated by a clown, who was called Malkin or Marykin. The interest of the subject has revived in recent years in connexion with the new movements associated with folk-music generally.

See The Morris Book, by Cecil J. Sharp and H. C. MacIlwaine. Among older authorities see Douce, “ Dissertations on the Ancient Morris Dance, ” in his Illustrations of Shakespeare (1839); Strutt, Sports and Pastimes of the People of England; Brand, Popular Antiquities (1849).