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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

II. Secular Influences on the Early English Drama

§ 7. Folk-dance and play

The influence, or the remnants, of cantilenae may, indeed, be traced in certain later growths, like the mummers’ play and the Hock-Tuesday play, to which we shall return; but folk-song, either heroic or pastoral, may be held to have been practically without effect on the main stream of English drama. A more valid influence is to be traced from the dances, combats and ritual actions of village-festivals. Writers on folk-lore point out that such games as football and hockey descend from the struggles for the possession of the head of the sacrificial victim, and the tradition still survives in special varieties, such as the “Haxey-hood” contest at Haxey in Lincolnshire. They point out, also, that disguise has its origin in the clothing of leaves and flowers or of the skin or head of the sacrificed animal, with which the worshipper made himself “a garment of the god,” thus bringing himself into the closest possible contact with the spirit of fertilisation. The maypole, which was a common feature of every green in England till the Rebellion, and enjoyed a shadow of its former glory after the Restoration, stands for the sacred tree, and the dance round it for the ritual dance of the pagan worshipper, just as some children’s games, like “Oranges and Lemons,” enshrine the memory of the sacrifice and of the succeeding struggle for possession of the victim’s head. In some instances, folk-observances have grown into something like plays, or have affected plays drawn from other sources; and of these a few words must now be said.