Shakespeare, the USA, and the First World War

By Monika Smialkowska

The United States of America maintained neutrality in the First World War for nearly 3 years, from the conflict’s outbreak on 28th July 1914 until 6th April 1917. However, this position was ms1debated on both sides of the Atlantic, especially after the sinking of the British liner Lusitania, with 128 American passengers on board, by a German U-boat in 1915. Interestingly, both anti-war and pro-war campaigners enlisted a somewhat unlikely ally to help them make their case: one William Shakespeare. Shakespearean texts and adaptations (sometimes the same ones) were used during WWI for both pacifist and militaristic purposes, depending on the precise historical moment and political climate.

A particularly striking case in point is Percy MacKaye’s Caliban by the Yellow Sands, based very loosely on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was a mammoth outdoors show (involving over 1500 performers and seen by tens of thousands of spectators), written for the American celebrations of the three-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1916. It was first staged at New York Lewisohn Stadium between 24th May and 5th June 1916. It was so well liked that the second production was mounted at Boston Harvard Stadium a year later, between 2nd and 21st July 1917. Both renderings had roughly the same plot and structure, charting Prospero, Miranda, and Ariel’s efforts to civilise Caliban and turn him away from his initial brutish violence towards self-control and enlightenment. This plot was distinctly pacifist, casting War as one of the villains who had to be defeated in order for Caliban to progress in his development. However, the circumstances of the two performances differed dramatically: during the New York run, the US was still maintaining its neutrality in the First World War, while the Boston show occurred shortly after the country joined the conflict on 6th April 1917. Because of these changed circumstances, the Boston production became something very different from the earlier version of the show.

The New York production of Caliban was clearly intended to promote peace and harmony. In the preface to the printed text of the show, the author lamented the fact that in Europe the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was greeted by ‘the choral hymns of cannon’ and singled out the neutral US as the only place where his memory could be suitably honoured, creating ‘new splendid symbols for peace through harmonious international expression.’[1] Local newspapers commented that New Yorkers of different ethnic origins – among them English, French, and German – co-operated in the performance, united in their love of Shakespeare and community spirit. The purpose of the show was non-partisan, and any potential income was to go towards cultural aims: the erection of Shakespeare’s statue and thms2e Actors’ Fund of America (see New York Sun, 17 Sept. 1915).

By the time of the Boston performance, things changed dramatically. It was decided that the proceeds of this show would go to war-related (though partly humanitarian) causes: the American Red Cross and the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Harvard. Moreover, participation in the production was now advertised in patriotic terms, as a ‘display of loyal helpfulness’, ‘aiding the State and the nation,’ and ‘doing [your] bit for Uncle Sam’ (Boston Post, 8th April 1917). Some newspapers went even further, inviting their readers to ‘See “Caliban” and Aid U. S. in the War’ (Boston American, 1st July 1917), and calling the show ‘a Bumper Patriotic Pleasure’ (Boston Daily Globe, 4th July 1917).

Besides this kind of newspaper coverage, the Boston show acquired extra features which made it not only patriotic, but distinctly pro-war. While the plot of the main performance remained the same as the year befor

e, the organisers introduced somewhat unexpected pre- and post-performance additions. They invited military units, naval officers and war veterans to make public appearances and to march around the stadium to the sound of an army band. Patriotic speeches were made, military drills performed, flags waved, and ‘Star Spangled Banner’ sung. Moreover, the shows were now used explicitly to promote recruitment to the armed forces and to emphasise solidarity among the Allied powers. On 12th July, the special guests were ‘the British officers in charge of the recruiting of British subjects in Boston’ (Boston Daily Globe, 12th July 1917), and the performance on 14th July, attended by the representatives of the British, French, and American armies, was described as ‘Truly a big brilliant Allied night’ (Boston Daily Globe, 14th July 1917).

In the space of a year, Caliban was thus transformed from a celebration of peace, harmony, and neutrality, into an expression of aggressive patriotism and militarism. The show’s focus shifted from US domestic policy (using theatrical art to unify disparate immigrant groups in early twentieth-century New York) to intervening in the global arena and forging alliances with Britain and France. And Shakespeare proved flexible enough to be used for both purposes.

The 1915-17 newspaper articles quoted here are available as cuttings in Caliban scrapbooks in the ‘Papers of MacKaye Family’ collection at the Rauner Special Collections Library, Dartmouth College. Sincere thanks to Dartmouth College Library for their courtesy in allowing me to use these materials.


Image Credit:

Image 1: the cover of the New York Caliban programme; image 2: the Boston Caliban poster. Courtesy of Dartmouth College Library.

Further reading:

For a more detailed discussion of the topic, see Monika Smialkowska, ‘Conscripting Caliban: Shakespeare, America, and the Great War’, Shakespeare, 7:2 (2011), 192-207

[1] Percy MacKaye, Caliban by the Yellow Sands (Garden City and New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1916), p. xiii.


Frank Warrington Dawson: Confederate, Newspaperman, Englishman

By David Gleeson

In Frank DawsonNovember 1861 young Austin Reeks presented himself to Captain Peagram of the CSS (Confederate States Service) Nashville for service at the port in Southampton as Francis Warrington Dawson. The young Reeks came from a distinguished old English Catholic family, but his father had fallen on hard times, placing Austin and his siblings firmly in the lower-middle class. Austin wanted more and found that opportunity in his embrace of the Confederacy. Despite widespread opposition to slavery in England, many felt sympathy for the South, including Reeks. His parents, however, were not pleased that their twenty-year-old son wanted to join the Confederate navy and so he changed his name, choosing his favourite saint (Francis of Assisi), distinguished ancestors (the Warrens of Warrington), and an Uncle who had served with distinction in the British Army (Dawson).

Frank Dawson found naval life not to his liking because, among other things, it did not give much opportunity for glory, and he transferred to the army taking part in the major battles around the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, in the summer of 1862. He impressed his comrades with his enthusiasm and efficiency and received a commission as Lieutenant and eventually captain. His Englishness definitely helped him succeed as it naturally impressed native Confederates that this Englishman would join their cause. His articulate defence of the Confederacy gained him a lot of prominent friends.

He served with distinction until the end of the War and he used personal Confederate contacts to gain a position as a journalist on a Richmond newspaper. Partnering with an Irish American he moved to Charleston and bought the Charleston News and made it an instant success eventually taking over its main rival the Charleston Courier. Dawson made the new News and Courier one of the most important papers in the post-War South. He did it by endorsing what became known as the ‘New South’ philosophy, which while respecting the Confederate past, advocated the region embrace an industrial and urban future. The role model was the England of the late nineteenth century not the pastoral one of the seventeenth which many southern nationalists had advocated during the Civil War. Dawson also argued for cooperation with some of those ‘reconstructing’ the South in the North’s image. Though a supporter of white supremacy he did not, for example, believe that African Americans should be disfranchised.

This latter stance annoyed many South Carolinians including some of his admirers who put his naiveté on race down to his English background. His English ethnicity would cost him his life too. In March 1889 he went to the home of a neighbour who had been ‘interfering’ with an au pair in his household. Confronting this married man for his dishonourable behaviour; Dawson got into a fight with him and reportedly struck him. The neighbour responded with gunfire killing Dawson. In the murder trial that followed the assailant was acquitted ostensibly because Dawson had entered the man’s property and attacked him. To many in Charleston it was another sign of Dawson’s naiveté. In the South, as historian Stephanie McCurry has clearly shown, the property line was sacrosanct, and any man who crossed it without permission could expect violence. Despite his embrace of the South and his work to create a newer version then he forgot the values of the ‘Old South’ still held sway for many. Elements of these values were of the middle ages and not the modern industrial age he advocated. Dawson, it seems, no matter how hard he tried, could not escape his English origins.


Francis Warrington Dawson Family Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.

Stephanie, McCurry. Masters of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Giselle Roberts, ed. The Correspondence of Sarah Morgan and Francis Warrington Dawson. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2004.

Looking Forward to the Past

By Mike Sutton

image003Nostalgia for an idealized vision of the past has been a potent cultural force for centuries. It drives many communities to   celebrate their history (or an imaginative reconstruction of it) by re-enacting past events or ancient rituals. These performances often arouse intense passions locally – as happens with the Palio in Siena, or Bonfire Night in Lewes. Early settlers in the New World also felt this impulse. In Massachusetts, on May Day 1627, Thomas Morton organised “revels and merriment after the old English custom” to encourage solidarity among the colonists and promote better relations with local natives.

Having brewed “a barrel of excellent beer” and provided “a case of bottles to be spent, with other good cheer, for all comers of that day” the revellers erected their May Pole – “a goodly pine tree of 80 foot long … with a pair of buck’s horns nailed on somewhat near unto the top of it.” According to Morton’s account of the event in his New English Canaan (1637) a good time was had by all – except the local Puritans.

The setting up of this Maypole was a lamentable spectacle to the precise Separatists that lived at New Plimouth. They termed it an Idol; yea, they called it the Calf of Horeb and stood in defiance at the place, naming it Mount Dagon…

Morton later claimed that the colony’s ruling elite had used this incident as a pretext to shut down his business, and gain a monopoly of the lucrative beaver pelt trade. Till then, Morton had been prospering as an independent trader, possibly due to his amicable relations with the Native Americans. Whatever their real motives were, by September 1628 the Puritans had expelled him from the colony and destroyed his maypole.

Despite this inauspicious precedent, historical pageants, re-enactments and festivities have long remained popular recreational activities in the USA. Mediaeval tournaments, Renaissance fairs, May Day revels, Dickensian Christmas feasts and Jane Austen-themed formal balls are now a significant sector of the leisure industry. Meanwhile, persons of a belligerent disposition re-enact battles from a wide variety of historical periods – including conflicts from America’s own Revolutionary and Civil Wars, sometimes on their original sites.

Voluntary associations promote and co-ordinate historical re-enactment events all over the USA. One of the largest is the Society for Creative Anachronism, founded in Berkeley, California in 1966, which now has active groups in Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in most regions of the US and Canada. The SCA boasts around 30,000 full members, and a similar number of non-members also participate in its activities. Their main focus is the celebration of Medieval and Renaissance European culture, though many individual members also venture into other periods.

While visiting Californian friends in April 2013, I met some SCA members who share a particular interest in historic dances – amongst numerous other enthusiasms. The introduction came through Karen, a long-time SCA member who specialises in traditional calligraphy. Her husband Chaz (a professional author, and a frequent guest speaker at science fiction and fantasy conventions) is also deeply interested in things historical. This is not an unusual combination – many American historical re-enactors are also SF and fantasy fans, with Doctor Who and Harry Potter pimage005articular favourites.

Early one Wednesday evening, we drove from Chaz and Karen’s home in Sunnyvale to the dance group’s weekly practice in San José. In a spacious suburban lounge they were put through their paces by Matt, their instructor, assisted by Elizabeth on the violin. The dances – mostly taken from John Playford’s English Dancing Master (1651) or the Orchésographie of Thonoit Arbeau (1589) – were performed energetically, but very tidily.

Cyn, our hostess for the evening, offered beverages and banter during breaks in the action, but although the atmosphere was light-hearted, the dances were clearly being taken seriously by all participants. They encouraged me to join in some of them, and as a thank-you I taught them a Northumbrian-style step-hop dance, which they picked rapidly. When the practice ended, everyone migrated to a nearby pizzeria and bar.

Some wanted a full meal, having come directly to the meeting from work, but the evening’s exertions had left the rest of us eager for drinks, snacks and gossip. Everyone around the table was keen to volunteer information about their engagement with the SCA. Several of them also had experience of re-enactments from outside the SCA’s chronological remit – including World War Two and American Civil War battles, and Dickens and Austen themed events.

They agreed that a minority treated these events simply as opportunities to dress up, fire off blank cartridges, and then socialise over a few drinks. But they also stressed that for most participants (and spectators) re-enactments are a valuable aid to understanding their own history – and other people’s too. I was assured that while many Asian-Americans attend Regency costume balls, quite a few Anglo-Americans enjoy dressing up as Samurai or Geishas, and a number of African-Americans participate enthusiastically in Viking battles.

There was a strong consensus that whatever else you hope to achieve in this activity, it ought to be fun – and general agreement that while striving for authenticity is a good thing, it can sometimes be overdone. On the one hand, they said, you shouldn’t turn up to a Regency assembly in tennis shoes. But on the other hand, infecting yourself with dysentery before re-enacting a Civil War battle takes ‘sharing the experience’ a little too far!

Nevertheless, when re-enactments are run as commercial enterprises, there is considerable pressure to maintain the illusion of a fully revived past. One female SCA member who had worked at the Williamsburg heritage site recalled that there “you don’t step out of period unless your hair is on fire”. But although they mocked fanatics who pursue authenticity to absurd extremes, all of them were committed to reproducing the relevant details of dress, deportment, music and dance as accurately as possible – within reason.

Most voices around the table were optimistic about the current state of the historical re-enactment movement. However, there were a few complaints about the excessive commercialisation of some events. Massive ‘craft fairs’ are often attached to them, and there is sometimes a rather heavy-handed emphasis on boosting local tourism. But throughout the evening the mood of the discussion seemed very positive, and the enthusiasm (and expertise) of the participants was obvious.

When Karen, Chaz and I had to leave for home, the party was still going on, and the reckoning as yet unpaid. As we exchaimage001nged farewells, I offered a contribution towards the bill, but was told “don’t worry about that – Karen will explain”. In the car, she told me: “They all have pretty good jobs, so every week one them just picks up the check – for them, it’s no big deal.” The cost of beer, wine, pizzas and snacks for the table (plus tax and tips) must have come to around 200 dollars. If that was no big deal for them, Silicon Valley’s re-enactors are clearly doing well.

Karen drove us back to Sunnyvale along El Camino Real, which follows the route of the Royal Highway established when California still belonged to Spain. Its significance as a transport artery has declined recently, as a nearby modern freeway now takes most of the through traffic. Instead, El Camino has become a monster strip-mall, with mile after mile of neon-lit bars, restaurants and stores – everything from massive car dealerships and furniture emporia to tiny fast-food outlets.

Several ethnic communities cluster along it, and Karen warned me to look out for ‘Little Korea’, and ‘Little India’. Spotting them was not difficult. Most of their shop and restaurant signs were bi-lingual – chunky Korean ideograms in one case, and curly Indian scripts in the other. I wondered idly if any of their staff (or customers) were interested in historical re-enactments, and if so, what kind they preferred.

At home, Karen used a tablet computer to show me a sample of her own craft work. It was a beautiful piece of calligraphy, done as a wedding gift for a couple of friends. She had prepared the ink and the parchment using traditional methods, and cut a suitable feather to make a quill pen for the job. After gazing admiringly but uncomprehendingly at the beautiful lettering, I confessed that the language and the script were unfamiliar to me. Karen replied: “It’s the Lord’s Prayer – in Klingon.”

California, I love you!


Further Information

Murphy, Edith, entry ‘Morton, Thomas’ in New Dictionary of National Biography, OUP, ongoing

Rubin, Rachel Lee, Well Met: Renaissance faires and the American counter-culture, New York University Press, 2013

Web Site: Society for Creative Anachronism

Pilgrims, Benjamin Franklin and the North Atlantic Triangle

By Stephen Bowman

In an effort to inject the early-twentieth century diplomatic British-American rapprochement with a shared meaning, elites on both sides of the Atlantic appropriated and reimagined the Britain’s and America’s pasts. Foremost amongst these elites was the Pilgrims Society, a dining club for politicians, diplomats, businessmen, lawyers and journalists, formed in London and New York in 1902. To solidify the rapprochement, they appealed to a set of English values and ideas which they believed characterised the Anglo-Saxonism that underpinned their conception of a shared British-American identity.

Some of this is best shown by considering a banquet held by the Pilgrims Society for the Governor-General of Canada, Northumberland’s 4th Earl Grey, at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in March 1906. This was part of good-will visit undertaken by Earl Grey as part of an effort to address some outstanding diplomatic differences between Canada and Britain and the United States, including disagreements over fishing rights in the North Atlantic. Earl Grey also used the Pilgrims’ dinner as an opportunity to publicly announce that he was returning a portrait of Benjamin Franklin that had been taken from Franklin’s house in Philadelphia by British forces during the American Revolution, and which Grey had inherited.

Like his fellow Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin has served as a symbol of American national identity in the centuries since his death. By the end of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth, American imperialism in places like Cuba and the Philippines, but also on the Western Frontier, meant that Franklin also acted as an icon of America’s expansion and civilising mission. This chimed with Anglo-Saxonist conceptions of imperialism, which was presented as a benign and improving influence upon the world, particularly through the exporting of the apparently unique English propensity for self-government. Earl Grey and the Pilgrims Society certainly subscribed to this notion. In so doing, they neatly forgot about the worst excesses of Anglo-Saxon imperialism, for instance the grubby incident at Chumik Shenko in Tibet in March 1904 when British imperial forces en route to Lhasa massacred 500 Tibetans, the suppression of the 1906 Zulu rebellion in Natal, or America’s brutal defeat of Filipino insurgents at the turn of the century.

Meanwhile, the renewed scholarly and literary interest in Franklin at the start of the twentieth century – which highlighted, for example, the essential Englishness of his writing and its absence of Americanisms – was an attempt by American elites to institutionalise him as a symbol of the supremacy of Anglo-American ideals.  It was this elite aspect of American national identity, and its affinity with Benjamin Franklin, to which Earl Grey appealed in an effort to foster British-American friendship.

Unlike some American newspapers, the Pilgrims Society ignored the fact that Earl Grey was simply returning a piece of loot which had been taken from America during a period of British-American acrimony. These difficult historical realities were circumnavigated by Anglo-Saxonism and by an appeal to a shared English identity. Indeed, even though official histories of the Pilgrims Society suggest that the club did not take its name from the Pilgrim Fathers, the society would occasionally evoke the spirit of America’s early modern English and European settlers.  The tables at the Earl Grey dinner in March 1906, for example, were decorated with ‘sprays of trailing arbutus’, chosen because that species of plant had purportedly been the first flower encountered by the Pilgrim Fathers when they landed at Plymouth Rock in the seventeenth century (Boston Daily Globe, 1 April 1906). Likewise, at the Pilgrims’ twenty-fifth anniversary dinner in 1928, James Sheffield – the US Ambassador to Mexico – spoke of the ‘fundamental principles of government’ which the Pilgrim Fathers had brought to America from England and that the ‘spirit’ of that pilgrimage ‘rests with us tonight’. Such sentiments concerning the Pilgrim Fathers were consistent with what Joseph Conforti, in his book Imagining New England: Explorations of Regional Identity from the Pilgrims to the Mid-Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000), has termed a ‘new, politicized meaning’ to the word ‘Pilgrim’, which emerged in the early-nineteenth century. Largely distinct from religious connotations, ‘Pilgrim’, and the Pilgrim Fathers, ‘connoted the pioneering status of New England’s founders; the old comers were now imagined as the pioneers of civil and religious liberty in America.’

Thus the Anglo-Saxonism of the early-twentieth century – characterised by appeals to a shared British-American identity based on English ideas –  helped circumnavigate difficult historical and contemporary realities, including the memory of the Revolution, right up to recent British-American disagreements relating to Canada and Newfoundland. It also obscured some inconvenient truths about British and American imperial activity in Tibet, South Africa and the Philippines.

Uncovering the Origins of ‘English-Style’ Hunting and Equestrianism in Rural Virginia

By Dean Allen

Middleburg, Virginia, lies some 40 miles from the American capital Washington D.C. yet there is something quintessentially ‘English’ about the town and its surrounding areas. The National Sporting Library and Museum is also located here and houses one of North America’s most impressive collections of historic hunting and equestrian related material. Washington - Fox HunterAs a recipient of the John H. Daniels Research Fellowship, I was given access to both this collection and life in this unique part of the United States during the summer of 2013. Several months of living and working in rural Virginia gave me a privileged insight into the culture and identity of this region at the centre of which lies a rich history of English-style hunting and equestrianism.

Further investigation reveals that while forms of modern sport became entrenched within American society during the mid to late 19th Century, equestrian sports and hunting with hounds (in the traditional English manner) were established much earlier in Colonial Virginia. Arriving with the first colonists, these English upper-class pastimes became a vital part of English identity in Virginia and were used by many to recreate a sense of ‘Englishness’ throughout the new territory. Nowhere more so than in the region around Middleburg where records show that organised fox hunts had taken place as early as the mid 1660s.[1] A century later, a young George Washington (pictured) would lead his own pack on his Estate at Mount Vernon and continue a legacy of equestrianism and field sports that defines the ‘English’ of Virginia to this day.

By the end of the 17th century the wide-scale production of Tobacco had transformed both Virginia’s landscape and economy and the use of horses for both business and recreation became a feature of this boom. “Fine houses, carriages, racehorses and foxhunting were the most obvious signs of wealth”[2] and for the growing bourgeoisie, upper-class English-pursuits were considered essential to establish one’s status within the new Colony. Following the founding of Williamsburg as the Virginian capital at the dawn of the eighteenth century, the colony expanded taking on the motto En dat Virginia Quintum (Behold, Virginia gives the fifth [Kingdom]) – ranking herself with the king’s other claimed dominions, England, Scotland, Ireland, and France.[3]

Despite eventually leaving the British Empire, Virginians would continue to share the aristocratic leisure pursuits of their counterparts across the Atlantic. With its cultural lead coming from England, hunting with hounds in particular became “the principal field sport of the landed gentry”[4] throughout the new State. Dress, behavior, even imported foxes and hounds from the ‘Old Country’ ensured that huntsmen from Virginia and neighbouring Maryland could “secure the same sport that many of them had enjoyed in England.”[5] Horse racing and polo too became entrenched in re-affirming the cultural links with Englishness and both sports, alongside fox hunting, remain, as I discovered, an integral part of Virginia’s social landscape to this day.


[1] See R. Longrigg (1975) The History of Foxhunting. New York: Potter

[2] Ibid., 169.

[3] P. Rouse (1975) Virginia. A Pictorial History. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. P.5.

[4] A. Mackay-Smith (1968) The American Foxhound 1747-1967. Virginia: American Foxhound Club, p 1.

[5] J. Blan. van Urk (1941) The Story of American Foxhunting. New York: Derrydale, p.1.

The Anglo-American Rapprochement

By Stephen Bowman

Reflecting upon the reasons for the level of Anglophobia in the United States during the early-twentieth century, Walter Hines Page, the US ambassador in Britain from 1913 to 1918, observed in 1916 that American dislike for the British was partly caused by the insensitive behaviour of some English travellers and was perhaps also due to some foolish British foreign policy decisions. While admitting that many Americans were jealous of British power, Page – a committed Anglo-Saxonist – was nevertheless strikingly critical of his blood brothers.

It is, of course, difficult to establish clearly the extent to which Page conflated England with Britain. Yet, singling out the behaviour of English travellers on the one hand and British policy on the other, would suggest he made some differentiation between the two. Indeed, Anglophobia in America generally was just that: Anglophobia. England was the scapegoat of the American Revolution and of the War of 1812 and was criticised for inept diplomacy during the American Civil War. The Scots, the Irish and the Welsh were largely able to avoid coming under the Anglo bracket if they didn’t want to and could disown their association with the English-dominated British state by highlighting their own historical traditions of standing against English tyranny.

The apparent unpopularity of the English in America makes all the more striking the appeals to a shared Englishness that so marked the rapprochement that occurred between Britain and the United States from the late-1890s. This improvement in official relations between the two states has been typically observed in British support for America during the latter’s war with Spain in 1898 – a favour largely reciprocated during Britain’s war in South Africa – and in the gradual resolution of outstanding disputes between the US and the UK in the early years of the twentieth century. The rapprochement, partly motivated by a realisation in Britain that the ever-more powerful USA was worth placating, was underpinned by the Anglo-Saxonism of groups like the Pilgrims Society, the Anglo-American League, the Sulgrave Institute and the International Magna Charta Day Association (IMCDA). While non-English, white, English-speakers were included as part of Anglo-Saxondom, English cultural references sustained the Anglo-Saxonism of the British-American rapprochement.

This was demonstrated by the appeals to notions of liberty and freedom, manifest in the rights handed down by the English Magna Charta, and which Don MacRaild has already discussed in an earlier post with reference to the IMCDA. The Pilgrims Society – an elite dining club founded in London in 1902 and in New York in 1903 – also utilised this rhetoric. Chauncey Depew, the Pilgrims president in New York, whilst speaking at an event on ‘Britain’s Day’, held on the 7th December 1918 to mark the British contribution to victory in the First World War, described the improvement in British-American relations as the ‘fruitage in the centuries of Magna Charta, the Bill of Rights, and the American Declaration of Independence, in common principles and ideals’ (New York Times, 8 December 1918).

Themes of English liberalism were also evoked by groups like the Pilgrims Society. To them, liberalism connoted vague notions of Anglo-Saxon, English-speaking freedoms symbolised in large part by grand institutions and principles such as parliamentary democracy, Magna Charta and habeas corpus. Liberalism was seen as an inherent characteristic of Anglo-Saxondom, though nobody took too much time to ask what was meant by either term. Nor did liberalism necessarily mean the same thing in Britain as it did in America. In Britain, it was more closely associated with the Liberal party, while the Civil War and Reconstruction periods in the US increasingly witnessed liberalism connoting ideas about pro-Union ‘progressivism’. Moreover, painting transatlantic liberalism in broad brush-strokes has the effect of obscuring the discourse that exists in American political thought between the liberal and republican ‘traditions’. This discourse centres on whether the eighteenth-century Founding Fathers were motivated by Lockean liberalism or classical republicanism. It is a debate that questions the extent to which men like Thomas Jefferson were influenced in their constitutional decisions by a desire to protect the rights of property and of the individual, or whether they were instead driven by concepts of civic virtue and duty. Arguably, however, it was the Jeffersonian heritage of American liberalism – partly influenced by English Lockean ideals, but also borne of the American struggle for independence from Britain – that ensured that appeals to Anglo-American solidarity based on a shared liberalism remained both inexact and intact.

Dancing up the Sun

By Mike Sutton

It’s an hour before dawn on the first of May, and Roger is chatting cheerily while driving through Berkeley’s empty streets.  Although he’s lived in California since the 1980s, his accent (and sense of humour) still proclaim his English origins.  In the 1960s, while studying electrical engineering, he joined Hammersmith Morris Men.  Now, after retiring from a senior post with Bay Area Rapid Transit (the local Metro), Roger remains an active member of the Berkeley Morris side.

The Berkeley dancers, knowing about my research into the transmission of Morris dancing from England to America, have invited me to join their May Day celebration.  Consequently, Roger (in Berkeley’s red and white kit) and I (in Hexham’s blue and white) are heading for Inspiration Point – a local park with a view of the eastern horizon.  As we join the crowd there, the skyline already has a rosy tinge.

The proceedings start with a re-enactment of the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, which has been performed for centuries in one Staffordshire village.  The earliest report of it dates from 1532, though the reindeer horns still used there have been carbon-dated to the eleventh century.  The Berkeley dancers have newer antlers, but display them in the traditional manner – mounted on short staves, and held proudly upright as they weave a serpentine path through the crowd.

Modern scholars dismiss any suggestions that the custom might derive from a prehistoric pagan ritual.  Yet the sight of horns twisting and turning in the half-light still generates a visceral response, daring us to hope that the absence of archival evidence may not be conclusive.  As the sky brightens, the dancers put their horns aside and tread the homelier figures of the Cotswold Morris.  When the edge of the sun’s disk appears, the dancing stops. Everyone faces east, singing the old Cornish May carol.

We were up long before the day oh!
To welcome in the summer, to welcome in the May oh!
For summer is a-comin’ in, and winter’s gone away oh!

Once the sun clears the horizon the Cotswold dances resume, and I’m encouraged to join in a couple.  Finally, participation becomes universal.  The musicians form the hub of a big circle, as everyone links hands in a simple ring dance to affirm that summer has truly arrived.   Afterwards, spectators disperse in the brilliant Californian sunshine while the Berkeley crew trek home with Josh, their lead musician.  English and American traditions mingle on his breakfast table, where bacon and eggs meet bagels laden with cream cheese and smoked salmon.

Later we dance at a local junior school, where Robin (the side’s official Fool) and Lucy (Berkeley’s own pantomime bear, substituting for the traditional hobby-horse) generate much hilarity with their comic routines.   We also entertain appreciative (though quieter) audiences outside several café-bars, before ending the tour with lunch at a local brew-pub.  We’ve danced up the sun, danced in the summer, and danced all around our neighbourhood, as Morris folk have done for centuries. Now, we eat and drink in convivial fellowship before returning to everyday life.

People often ask Morris dancers “Why do you do it?”  For some it’s all about exercise, and the ‘righteous high’ they get when endorphins start flowing.  For others, it’s an enjoyable pub-crawl in fancy dress – similar to a stag night, hen party or carnival procession.   A few talk about preserving our cultural heritage – others shrug and say: “we just do it”.  But how inclusive is this “we”?  Can anyone join in?

In a few English villages, Morris dancing survived the Puritan hate-campaigns, agricultural depressions and global wars that killed it off everywhere else.  It is these communities alone who truly own the dances.   We enthusiasts of the Morris revival – which now includes around a hundred North American sides – are playing a different game, in a different league.   The dances do not belong to us, though we are privileged to borrow them temporarily.

Some early revivalists argued (despite historical evidence to the contrary) that the Morris dance originally ‘belonged’ to men only.  Today there are still thriving all-male sides – Hammersmith and Great Western, for example.  And there are twinned sides like Hexham Morrismen and Hexhamshire Lasses, who tour together but dance separately.   But there are also women-only sides like Windsor and Rivington whose zest and technical skills rival those of the best male dancers.   And Berkeley is one among many mixed sides who can deliver a first-rate performance.

Clearly, Morris has become more inclusive as regards gender – but what about ethnicity?  On America’s West Coast, the revival has certainly attracted recruits whose ancestral links with England are remote or non-existent, some of whom are already making their own contributions.  Although most dances in the Berkeley repertoire replicate faithfully what English folklorists collected long ago, one recent addition to it fits steps and figures that are recognisably Cotswold to a Jewish Klezmer tune from Eastern Europe.

Berkeley learned Klezmorris from its creators, Mossy Backs Morris of Seattle.  On first hearing, it might sound alien to English ears.  But it’s worth remembering that in the early 1500s Morris dancing was often called “Moorish dancing”, and there is some evidence that it may have come to England during the period when the Moors were being expelled from Spain.  If the Morris does have overseas origins, then it is one of many examples of our national culture’s integrative capacity.

Christmas pantomimes blend fragments of English folk drama with borrowings from the Italian Commedia del’ Arte and the French Harlequinade, along with tall tales from the Arabian Nights.  And like the pantomime, Morris survives by refreshing itself periodically.  America has already contributed to it – several Morris tunes logged as ‘traditional’ by pioneer collectors were actually borrowed (by some unknown village fiddler) from the Minstrel shows that toured Britain in the nineteenth century.

The Berkeley dancers, in their turn, have borrowed elements from various traditions to create a synthesis that works for them (and their audiences).    After teaching Klezmorris to me, they invited me to dance it with them on May Day, and it was so captivating that I immediately resolved to take it home and share it with other English dancers.  Whether it will take root here remains to be seen.  But it may yet become another item in the trans-Atlantic cultural traffic which our Diaspora project is highlighting.