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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Rough music, rough dance, rough play : misrule and Morris dance Stanfield, Norman


England is home to a distinctive vernacular dance called Morris dance. One of the reasons that it is unique is because it is a secular dance that is displayed rather than performed as a medium for socializing. Questions often arise from audiences when they try to decode its symbolism and the purpose of its presentation. Several interpretations have emerged since Morris dance was revived by successive waves of enthusiasts. After reviewing the study and culture of pre-modern and modern Morris dance and its cultural milieu and its principal venue, Whitsuntide(also known as May Day), a potential interpretation is proposed — misrule. The title of my dissertation recalls the famous essay on the theatrical display of misrule by E.P. Thompson titled "Rough Music" (1993). Using the research that has emerged from the study of carnival behaviour by Mikhail Bakhtin and liminality by Victor Turner, the basic conditions of misrule are reviewed and illuminated. Then the symbols and behaviour of modern and premodern Morris dance are subjected to comparison and contrast with the result that modern Morris dance will be shown to have departed significantly from the premodern template of misrule. This departure may help to explain the dilemma of the current popular criticisms leveled at Morris dance today. However, a complication is raised in which the new misrule interpretation may not prove usefu lafter all because it cannot be applied to the Morris dance culture as it currently exists.

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