The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #58909   Message #935474
Posted By: Hester
17-Apr-03 - 11:26 AM
Thread Name: UK Government to license Morris Dancing
Subject: RE: Bans on Mumming and Morris
Doktor Doktor wrote:

>>>Still theres scope for a whole new tradition - the Annual Banning of The Mummers. Suggestions invited for the format of the event! <<<

Oh, that's already a long-established tradition. In _Stations of the Sun_, historian Ronald Hutton notes that:

>>>'Mummers', 'maskers', and 'guisers' were also recorded among the inhabitants of British towns, and posed a problem to law and order because the combination of dark evenings and revellers in disguises afforded marvellous opportunities for crime. This is almost certainly why the custom was banned at Troyes, and at other European urban centres during the fourteenth century. It was explicitly the reason for a municipal order forbidding 'mumming' on the streets of London in 1405. Similar measures were subsequently taken at Bristol and Chester. An Act of Parliament in the third year of Henry VIII's reign prohibited the 'wearing of visors' across England, as 'a company together naming themselves Mummers have come in to the dwelling place of divers men of honour and other substantial persons; and so departed unknown'. The same problem affected Scotland, where a man was hanged in 1508 for stealing 'under guise of mumming'.<<< (p. 12)

Mumming in Newfoundland was banned in 1861, after a group of mummers committed a murder (which apparently had connections to labour unrest). The ban remained in place until the 1970s, when the custom was revived, despite its illegality, by a theatre troupe.

John Forrest discusses the numerous early ecclesiastic and legal bans on Morris Dancing in his book, THE HISTORY OF MORRIS DANCING 1458-1750.

Hmmm... not hard to see why Mumming and Morris dancing repeatedly face bans and/or official regulation, as they are so closely connected with festivals of misrule (predominantly Yule and the May), in which authority is mocked and challenged. The line between such "licensed" misrule and real political unrest/violence is very thin. See for instance Sandra Billington's book Mock Kings in Medieval Society and Renaissance Drama, in which she documents the commonality of imagery and ritual structure in medieval political revolt, festivities of misrule, and later professional drama.

The proposed licensing restrictions in the UK actually provide folkies with an opportunity to renew the tradition of the Morris and Mumming as acts of civil disobedience, political protest and social resistance.

Cheers, Hester