Location: Helpston, Northamptonshire, England (TF1205)
Year: Col. 1825
Time of Occurrence: Christmas
Collective Name: Moris Dance, Morris Dance


George Deacon
John Clare and the Folk Tradition
London, Sinclair Browne, 1983, ISBN 0-86300-008-8, pp.69,285-286,289,293-294



{The Moris Dance}

{A Popular Village Drama}

{Dramatis personie}

{1 King of Egypt}



Here comes I that never came before
With three merry actors standing at the door
They can both dance & likewise sing
& if you please they shall step in
Gentlemen & or ladys all Im glad to see you here
Im come to let you know it wont be long before my actors doth appear
Tho my company is but small
All do the best we can to please you all
To get your love & gain your favour
Well do the best of our endeavour
Now at this time Ive done my doom
I must turn back with speed & give my actors room

King of Egypt

Room room brave guards make room
& let the king of Egypt in
I am the king of Egypt as plainly doth appear
Im come to seek my son my son is only here
& if you dont consent to what I say
Step in prince George & clear the way

Prince George

Here comes I prince George a champion bold
& with my bloody spear I won three crowns of gold
I fit the firey dragon & brought him to a slaughter
& by that means I won the king of Egypts daughter
I kickt him & I smackt him as small as any flies
& sent him to Jamaica to make much pies

[Swish Swash & Swagger]

Here come I with my swish swash & swagger
With my cockt hat & glittering dagger
Ive come to court a damsel

[Peterborough MS. B3 p.57]


Deacon's notes:

p.293 "This short passage from the beginning of the mummers' play was collected by Clare from 'J Billings narrative an actor in it' (Peterborough MS. A18 p.269)"
p.294 "The foregoing is all that survives in the Clare manuscripts. The text is not fragmented or incoherent, so far as it is recorded, and it is to be hoped that the remainder of the play will some day come to light as I feel sure a complete text must have existed."
p.69 From Clare's poem "The Shepherds Calendar":
"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."
pp.285-286 Quotation from John Clare's letter to William Hone's Every-day Book, April 1825:
"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 coud not make sense of it tho I tryd 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 deckorated with carpenters [?] shavings & cut paper & without side their cloaths they wear [a] white shirt hung with different colours a silk hankerchief 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 actors is a sort of Buffoon grotesquely dressed with a hunch back & a bell between [his] legs together with a tail trailing behind [him] his face [is] blacked & he generaly carrys in his hand a hugh [i.e. huge] club [The] 4th is a docter dressd as much in character as their taste or circumstances alows - the plot of the thing is some thing as follows - the Kean 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 confind in prison for it is so destitute [of] common sense that you can not tell which & if as they refuse [his] enquireys his champion prince George is calld on who after talking a great deal of his wonderfull feats in slaying dragons & kicking his enemys as small as flyes begins [a] dialogue with his majesty then the fool is introduced with his bell who gives a humerous description of himself [&] his abilitys when all three joins in the dialogue & instantly [a] quarrel is created between the Kean & Young from what [cause] I know not & they draw their swords & fight the fool [gets] between them to part them & pretending [unclear] to be wounded falls down as dead [del (then the fourth character)] when the other confesses that the wounded [clown] is the kings own son in disguise whose rage is instantly turnd to sorrow & the doctor is calld 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 -"
p.289 "The Morris Dance
This account of a mummers' play together with the partial texts that Clare recovered provides a coherent picture of the form that the Helpston mummers' play took. Mumming was widely practised throughout England and there are several texts of plays collected in Northamptonshire. See Gawthorne, 'A Christmas Play', and 'Walks in My Study, Christmas Mumming', both in Northampton County Magazine, and Glossary of Northamptonshire Words and Phrases, p.430.
Kean and Young: Probably Edmund Kean and Charles Mayne Young, leading actors of the day."

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1999-12-04 - Entered by Peter Millington
2021-01-15 - TEI-encoded by Peter Millington


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