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  • Singing Simpkin and Other Bawdy Jigs: Musical Comedy on the Shakespearean Stage; Scripts, Music and Context by Roger Clegg and Lucie Skeaping
  • Catherine A. Henze
Roger Clegg and Lucie Skeaping. Singing Simpkin and Other Bawdy Jigs: Musical Comedy on the Shakespearean Stage; Scripts, Music and Context. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2014. Pp. xii + 339. $55.00.

Roger Clegg and Lucie Skeaping’s Singing Simpkin and Other Bawdy Jigs does exactly what it promises, providing scripts, music, and context. However, it also provides much more: a lucid history of early modern jigs, commentary on staging the jigs (including fighting), and an informative section on dance instruction by Anne Daye. Dealing with the three distinct disciplines of literature, music, and dance, the authors present a work that is remarkably free of disciplinary jargon, and thus accessible to all. A book for scholars, teachers, and particularly for performers, this decidedly practical book regarding a little-known dramatic form provides virtually everything needed to enact any of its nine jigs, which span the time period from the late sixteenth until the mid-seventeenth centuries: Wooing of Nan, Roland’s God Son, Singing Simpkin, Francis’ New Jig, The Black Man, The Jig of St. Denys’ Ghost, The Libel of Michael Steel, Fools Fortune, and Cheaters Cheated. Although there are other editions of some of these jigs, notably in C. R. Baskervill’s The Elizabethan Jig and Related Song Drama (1929, reprinted 1965), and Jack Ashworth and Richard Bagwell’s Two Elizabethan Stage Jigs (1978, an out-of-print pamphlet), no other editions are as readable, nor provide as much useful performance information.

The book begins with an excellent, scholarly chapter on the history of the dramatic jig. Clegg and Skeaping succinctly explain that although the jig made its first appearance in public theaters at the end of the 1570s, the form was initially “probably no more than a satirical ballad sung and danced by a clown to a popular tune” (1). In large part due to the skills of a variety of clowns and players, by the turn of the century the jig developed into “a short sung-drama that featured as an afterpiece to the main play in the open playhouses, and at times, it seems, as an interlude at bear-baitings” (1). Probably extended with improvised sections, stage fighting, and dancing, jigs were frequently bawdy, libelous, and/or [End Page 108] farcical. Of particular interest are the authors’ comments about the dominant themes (infidelity, and making fun of higher social classes); the contributions of particular actors (especially Tarlton and Kemp); and analysis of jigs’ reception (they were disliked both by those opposed to drama in general and by the more serious playwrights).

The heart of the book is the presentation of the nine jigs. For each one, in addition to an easily readable, carefully edited, modern English script, there are sections entitled “Synopsis,” “Provenance,” “Sources of the script,” and “Commentary on the tunes.” For a third of the jigs, there is an additional section, “Continental variants.” Beyond the historical introduction and jig editions, Singing Simpkin contains many excellent explanatory elements, such as Table 1, which lists the performance elements of each of the nine jigs: names, type (maid, sailor, etc.), props, location, and the presence of fighting or dancing. Also of note is the separate chapter on dance. Although the exact dances are not known, Daye has provided instruction, down to the level of specific steps, for several of the dances in Wooing of Nan, Singing Simpkin, and The Cheaters Cheated, along with an explanation of how these dances are appropriate for the other jigs.

The authors have made good use of previous scholarship, especially Baskervill’s Elizabethan Jig and Ashworth and Bagwell’s brief Two Elizabethan Stage Jigs, the latter being another performance-focused work. For those who desire additional scholarly information, Baskervill’s text is an excellent companion, particularly its 334-page “History of the Jig,” which deals extensively with historical sources. Yet Clegg and Skeaping’s work, in addition to having a more readable script, is more extensive in regard to individual jigs, containing not only individual histories of each jig, but also instruction for both music...


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