Morris Dance, an old English dance, usually performed with castanets, tabors, staves, or swords, by young men lightly dressed, with bells fixed about their legs, and parti-colored ribbons streaming from their arms and shoulders. It is supposed to be derived from the Morisco or Moorish dance still popular in Spain under the title of the fandango. It can be traced as early as the reign of Henry VII., when it was one of the sports of May day, Holy Thursday, the Whitsun ales, weddings, and other festivals. In the May game it was often performed by persons representing Robin Hood, Little John, Friar Tuck, Maid Marian, the fool, Tom the piper, and the hobby-horse. The May festivities of Robin Hood were chiefly designed for the encouragement of archery, and it is not certain that either he or his companions were prominent in the dance. Maid Marian is supposed to represent his mistress, but the part was often filled by a boy dressed in a girl's habit, and called queen of the May. It was once usual for the queen to be splendidly attired, but after the degeneracy of the dance the character was personated by a clown, who obtained the name of Malkin. Friar Tuck maintained his place in the sport till the reign of Elizabeth. The fool bore a bauble in his hand, and a coxcomb hood with asses' ears on his head.
Tom the piper was a minstrel of the superior order, with a complicated red, blue, and yellow dress, a sword, a feather in his cap, and a tabor, tabor stick, and pipe to distinguish his profession. The hobby-horse was designed for antics and tricks of legerdemain. During the reign of Elizabeth the Puritans checked the May pastimes by their invectives against " the terrestrial furies " which indulged in them. Maid Marian and the hobby-horse were restored by King James's "Book of Sports," but were again degraded during the commonwealth. In some parts of England, however, the dance continued till very recently, and it existed in France in the 18th century. - The fullest account of the subject is by Douce, in a dissertation with his "Illustrations of Shakespeare".