Fools and Beasts have separate and certainly older origins than the Cotswold Morris they are more often associated with today. The medieval Feast of Fools celebrated the fools’ status and tournaments and pageants of the time featured hobby or tourney horses as well as mythical beasts and they were thought ancient then! Not every side is blessed with these carefree characters, but many are fortunate enough to have provided a home for both and some exceptionally lucky sides have more than one of each.
The Fool is an integral part of any side performing dances from the South Midlands. The Fool provides a link between the dancers and the audience: he will entertain and provoke. However, historically he would have been the best dancer in the side and would on occasions be asked to demonstrate his skill by performing a solo jig. There is no specific costume for a Fool; each dresses as he wishes. Often the Fool will carry a short stick with a pigs-bladder attached by a piece of string. This performs a very important function should any man not be putting enough effort into his dancing, or if they do something wrong, it is the Fool's job to encourage them to do better. What better way than to whack the offender's head or bottom with a bladder!
Alongside the Fool, there may be a mythical and mysterious Beast! Traditionally, this would have been a Hobbyhorse, but now it is just as likely to be a Dragon or a Unicorn. Be assured all morris Beasts are friendly and just love doing what Beasts do best: tormenting and teasing the audience, especially children. Additionally, they like sunbathing, riding bicycles, drinking beer, and eating - eating money of course … coins of the realm. Phil Underwood compiled an archive of Morris Ring Animals some time ago which is well worth a visit Morris Ring Animal Archive
And with his permission, I've re-edited a wonderful booklet by Ron Shuttleworth on Constructing a Hobby Animal.
Supported by the Morris Ring, the Morris Federation and the Open Morris, The Order has been in existence in various guises since 1980 to encourage excellence in these ancient arts and provide a forum to develop the characters' skills. The official website can be found at www.foolsandbeasts.org.uk, where you will find much more information about Fools and Beasts in the Morris. There is also an active Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FoolsAndBeasts
There is no “right way” to Fool, and the Union does not set out to promote a particular style or approach. There are several “wrong ways” to Fool - anything which causes genuine offence to the audience, or other dancers - and we do try to help new Fools avoid the basic mistakes. We have put together a collection of workshop notes, mainly written by Dolphin's Fule Mike Wilkinson, may help avoid pit falls - but not prat falls. Workshop Notes
Convener & Scrivener is Robert Chisman, who can be contacted by email: triggertrotter [at] aol [dot] com (Rob Chisman)
The Annual Unconvention
The annual meeting of the Illustrious Order takes place in different venues usually about the end of October (see our Events Diary).