The Friar and the Nun

[ This article appeared in volume 4 of the Letter of Dance. ]

by Mathilde Eschenbach

I learned "The Friar and the Nun", a dance from the first edition of Playford, about ten years ago from Master Christopher d'Arras. It is very lively and fun, and was probably the most popular dance I introduced while dance mistress of Bhakail.

The dance is a longways, progressive dance of the sort that totally took over by the end of the 17th century, although even in the first edition there are over 20 dances of this type. However, the tune is probably somewhat older, since there are references to it in the late 16th century, as well as a more doubtful one as early as 1542.(1)

The dance has three sections, an introduction which is done just once at the beginning of the dance, and two progressive figures. Unlike the usual version of "Hole in the Wall", the most common longways progressive dance done in the SCA, there is no counting off of sets before starting the dance. Rather, the dance follows what seems to be the typical pattern of these dances in (or just after) period. A figure is described specifically for the first and second couples, and then is followed by some variant of the phrase "Do thus to all, the rest following." In the reconstruction of this dance that I learned and describe here, once the first couple is back in place, after completing the first figure, they start the second figure while the rest of the set is still doing the first figure. However, looking at other dances of this type(2), some of which have the typical siding and arming verses between the progressive figures that serve as the chorus, it seems that the period practice would probably have been for the first couple to wait for the rest of the set to finish the first figure before starting the second.

Even with the first and second figures overlapping, the dance can be quite lengthy if there are many couples taking part (just six couples will need 28 repeats of the tune), but it only continues until each couple has finished both figures, dancing as both first and second couple with every other couple. Since it has a clear end-point, it is not repeated ad nauseum as is sometimes done with "Hole in the Wall". This would be a significant advantage for anyone who enjoys this type of dance , but who also enjoys getting to do a variety of other dances in an evening and maybe to occasionally learn new ones.


The Fryar and the Nun Longwayes for as many as will [image of initial dancer configuration]

Lead up men a D. turne round, We goe up a D. and turne single: Wo. goe downe a D. and turne single, men down and turne S × : _

The two uppermost men fall back and turne S. We. as much, changing over with your owne, men change, We change at the same time, then each change places with his owne × Doe thus to all, the rest following. :_

First and 2. man change places by both hands, We. as much, men and We. meet side wayes, turne all S. hand and goe halfe round, turne S. hands a crosse and goe halfe round, turne S.: _

Music for The Fryar and the Nun

[Music for Fryar and the Nun]

Reconstruction (line of couples, any number):


1-2Men forward a double.
3-4Men turn single.
5-6Women forward a double.
7-8Women turn single.
9-10Women back a double.
11-12Women turn single.
13-14Men back a double.
15-16Men turn single.

First Figure:

1-2First and second men take hands and go back a double.
3-4Men turn single.
5-6First and second women take hands and go back a double.
7-8Women turn single.
9-10, 11-12All go forward 2 doubles, changing places with your partner (moving to your own left, passing right sholders).
13-14The two men change places along the line, and at the same time the
two women also change places (moving right, passing left shoulders).
15-16All change places across the line with your partner (moving left,passing right shoulders).

The first couple repeats this figure progressing down the line, waits out a turn, and then goes back up the line dancing the part of the second couple. Each couple joins the progression once they have danced with the first couple, waiting out a turn at each end of the line. When the first couple returns to the head of the line, again they wait out a turn, and then they start:

Second Figure:

1-2First and second men take both hands and change places.
3-4First and second women take both hands and change places.
5-6Still holding hands, men and women take 4 small slipping steps into
the center of the line.
7-8All turn single.
9-10All join hands and circle halfway round (with one double).
11-12All turn single.
13-14Take the right hand of the person across from you and circle halfway around.(4)
15-16All turn single.

Progress in the same way as the first figure. Couples start doing the second figure once they have returned to their original positions doing the first figure and are again dancing with the first couple. When the first couple reaches the head of the line for the second time, they stop dancing. After that, each couple in turn will stop as they come to their original positions.


Playford, John, The English Dancing Master (London: 1651). Facsimile with introduction, bibliography and notes by Margaret Dean-Smith, Schott & Co. Ltd. (London 1957).

Playford, John, The English Dancing Master (London: 1651). Reprint with music in modern notation by Hugh Mellor and Leslie Bridgewater (London: 1933); reprinted by Dance Books Ltd. (London: 1984).


"Country Dances: John Playford's English Dancing Master, 1651", The Broadside Band; Jeremy Barlow, Director. Harmonia Mundi: HM 1109.
Friar and the Nun played through 7 times, no introduction, at a nice, lively tempo.


1 Playford, Dean-Smith edition, p. 70.

2 E.g., "Skellemesago", p. 34 or "The Bath", p. 51, in the Mellor and Bridgewater edition of Playford.

3 Playford, Mellor and Bridgewater edition, p. 84.

4 This is basically the same figure known in modern square dancing as a right-hand star, formed by taking the wrist of the person in front of you. However, the directions in another dance, "The Health" (p.55, the final section of the dance), make it clear that in Playford s time this figure was done by simply taking the hand of the person across from you: "First man and last Wo. meet, and give right hands, first Wo. and last man the like, then holding hands a crosse, goe round to your places".

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) (