Original ERD - Definitions

Compiled by E.C.Cawte, A.Helm & N.Peacock. Online ed.: P.T.Millington

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The three main classes - Hero-Combat, Sword Dance, and Wooing - continue to be valid, although various sub-divisions have been suggested. For instance, 'Multiple Wooing Plays' and 'Recruiting Sergeant Plays' have been proposed as sub-classes of Wooing Plays - now preferably known as 'Plough Plays'. The plays listed here as 'Wooing/Hero-Combat' are nearly all what we would now call Recruiting Sergeant plays, with the few remaining 'Wooing' plays being of the Multiple Wooing type. The dominant play class is Hero-Combat, and recent textual analysis has proposed several sub-classes, although it is too early to tell which will be accepted by the academic community. For full explanations of the proposed subdivisions see Millington (1999-2004 & 2003).

Page numbers refer to the original introductory chapters and are hyperlinked to the relevant passages in the electronic edition.


Details insufficient to permit accurate classification, but ceremonial known to have existed. One of the classifications may be added to show which we think most likely.


The action consists of one or more champions overcoming one or more opponents who are revived by a doctor. Characteristic performers include: Saint George, Turkish Knight or Black Prince, 'Female', Doctor, Jack Finney, Devil Doubt, Beelzebub, Big Head, though these names are subject to endless variation, and the last three (among others) do not carry the action further. Costume: latterly dressed to correspond with characters, but formerly, according to area, strips of paper or ribbons over ordinary clothes. Faces blackened or raddled, or covered by headdress. Time of Appearance: All Souls' to Easters. (see p.27.)

Sword Dance

Those sword dances which include a play element [Note 1]. The linked sword dance (see Cawte et al, 1960) is the basis. A man is executed by the lock of swords around his neck, and is revived either by a doctor, a clown, or a 'Female'. Characteristic performers include: Clown, Bessie, 5-8 dancers, one of whom is the Captain. Costume: sometimes quasi-military, previously ordinary clothes with ribbons sewn on. Time of Appearance: Christmas to New Year. (See p.24)

[Sword Dance + Execution]

The star of swords is put round the neck of a performer as in Sword Dance above, and he may fall to the ground, but the action is carried no further, and there is no revival. (See p.14.)


Details known, but not conforming to any the types mentioned.


Ceremonial known to have taken place, but the possibility exists that the performers came from elsewhere. (See p.14.)

Wooing Play or Bridal Play

The wooer of a young 'Female' is rejected in favour of a Clown, and enlists in the army. The Clown is occasionally accused of being the father of the bastard child of an older 'Female'. this he rejects. The action then normally follows the Hero-Combat Play (see above). Characteristic performers include: The Recruiting Sergeant, Ploughboy, Lady, Clown, Dame. Costume: Ordinary clothes with appliquéed farm animals. Shirts often worn outside trousers; headgear often tall and decorated with jewellery, watches, etc. Time of Appearance: Christmas to Plough Monday (See p.25.)

Hero-Combat + Dame Jane

See p.14.

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1. This clarification has been added at Cawte's request.


E.C.Cawte, Alex Helm, R.J.Marriott & N.Peacock (1960) A Geographical Index of the Ceremonial Dance in Great Britain
Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 1960, Vol.IX, No.1, pp.1-41

Peter Millington (1999-2018) Folk Play Research: Texts and Contexts
Internet URL:, 1999-2018, accessed 24th Jan.2021
Retitled in 2018 - formerly 'Historical Database of Folk Play Scripts'.

Peter Millington (2003) Textual Analysis of English Quack Doctor Plays: Some New Discoveries
Folk Drama Studies Today: The International Traditional Drama Conference 2002, ed. by Eddie Cass & Peter Millington
Sheffield, Traditional Drama Research Group, 2003, ISBN 0-9508152-3-3, pp.97-132
[PDF Download - 841 kB]

Peter Millington (2004-2021) Folk Play Scripts Explorer
Internet URL:, 2004-2021, accessed 24th Jan.2021

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© 2007, E.C.Cawte, N.Peacock & P.Millington ( Rev. 24-Jan-2021