Friday 27 May 2011

Morris Dancing and Othello

Pausing on Lamb's Conduit Street yestereve I saw a troop of Morris dancers waving their sticks about. For those of you who have never seen or heard of morris dancing, it's the most traditional olde-worlde, merrie-Englande form of folk dancing. Except it's not English. It's Arab.

Morris is a corruption of Moorish (via Morisk). Moorish is of or pertaining to the Moors and Moor is an old word for an Arab.

Well, in fact, Moor used to be used indiscriminately to mean Arab, negro, Indian, Muslim or pretty much anything that originated from beyond Kent. That's why nobody, to this day, is quite sure whether Othellothe Moor of Venice, was meant to be black (as we would understand the term) or Arab.

The dance that I witnessed yesterday has been called a Morisk, Moresque, Moorish or Morris dance since the fifteenth century. So I assume that it was Othello's favourite jig.

Moor itself comes from Mauritania which was the ancient name for Morocco, although, weirdly Morocco doesn't have anything to do with Moor.

Nor does Moorish, meaning Arabian, have anything to do with More-ish meaning appetite-whetting, a fact that was lost on the writers of a wine list in a restaurant I once visited. Here is a rather blurry photo:

A Scotsman once told Arnold Bax that "You should make a point of trying every experience once, except incest and folk-dancing." This phrase is usually now repeated with the folk replaced by Morris. But poor Desdemona would tell you that you should also strike from the list a dangerously Moorish husband.

The hankerchiefs were all stolen from Desdemona

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