That’s Comedy!

Right then. Not every entertainment in Shakespeare’s England was, how shall we say this? high-brow.

To that end, let me present to you Singing Simpkin, a jig (that is to say, a short comedy — all singing, all dancing) that might have been presented between acts in a theater, or in a tavern yard. Or somewhere.

Because we can’t have bawdry these days without making it high-brow, however … here are program notes!

Dancing, singing, cross-dressing, off-color humor, fight scenes, and improvised comedy are all the stuff of jigs. These musical skits often performed during the intermissions or at the ends of longer dramatic works, juxtaposed comedy with the serious narrative of plays by Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

And, because figuring out what they’re saying may be a bit of a challenge, here is the full text of Singing Simpkin (page 109 et seq) so you can follow along (or put it on yourself at your Christmas Revels to the great amusement of your guests). This jig has five characters: Simpkin, a clown; Bluster, a Roarer; An Old Man; His Wife; and A Servant. Surely even in these plague times you can get that going.

Seriously, though, you can draw a straight line from this through to modern burlesque, and probably could draw one backwards to a USO show put on before the walls of Troy to amuse the Achaeans during that interminable siege.


While I have you here, if you’re looking for a bit of pre-Shakespearian bawdry (and who isn’t, these days?) allow me to present A Merry Play of Johan Johan, the Husband, Tyb, his Wife, and Sir Johan, the Priest by John Heywood. Totally not suitable for the workplace.

Want it in hardcopy? Buy one! Better still, buy a dozen! They make excellent gifts.

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