Clare and Morris

[Morris Men at Helpston in July 2008 outside the Blue Bell Inn]

"And when its past a merry crew
Bedeckt in masks and ribbons gay
The 'Morrice danse' their sports renew
And act their winter evening play
The clown-turnd-kings for penny praise
Storm wi the actors strut and swell
And harlequin a laugh to raise
Wears his hump back and tinkling bell."

From "The Shepherds Calendar"

"The Morris Dance is very popular now with us they begin to go round the week before Christmas -- it appears to have been a burlesque parody on some popular story at the time but it has been so mutilated by its different performers that I could not make sense of it though I tried to transcribe from the mouths [of] 3 or 4 persons who had all been actors in it. There are [the] characters 2 of them the Kean & Young of the piece [are] finely dressed their hats are decorated with carpenters[?] shavings & cut paper & without side their clothes they wear [a] white shirt hung with different colours. A silk handkerchief serves them for a sash & another slung over their shoulders is a belt for their swords which are some-times real & sometimes wooden ones. The third actor is a sort of Buffoon grotesquely dressed with a hunch back & a bell between [his] legs together with a tail trailing behind. His face [is] blacked & he generally carries in his hand a huge club. The 4th is a doctor dressed as much in character as their taste or circumstances allows.

The plot of the thing is some thing as follows - the King of the Drama steps in first & on [making] a sort of prologue describes himself to be a no less personage then the king of Egypt. His errand appears to be to demand his lost son who seems to have married a lady not worthy [of the] heir of Egypt or to be confined in prison, for it is so destitute [of] common sense that you can not tell which. If as they refuse [his] enquiries his champion Prince George is called on who after talking a great deal of his wonderful feats in slaying dragons & kicking his enemies as small as flies, begins [a] dialogue with his majesty then the fool is introduced with his bell who gives a humorous description of himself [&] his abilities. All three join in the dialogue & instantly [a] quarrel is created between the King & Young from what [cause] I know not & they draw their swords & fight the fool [gets] between them to part them & pretending to be wounded falls down as dead. When the other confesses that the wounded [clown] is the Kings own son in disguise whose rage is instantly turned to sorrow & the doctor is called in & a large reward is offered him if he can restore him to life. Who after enumerating [his] vast powers in medical skill & knowledge declares the [person] to be only in a trance & on the doctors touching him he rises & they all join hands & end the Drama with a dance & song -"

Quotation from John Clare's letter to William Hone's Every-day Book, April 1825

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