Jablonski, Marek (Michael)



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Jigg [jig, jygge].


A stage entertainment popular in England and on the Continent (Holland, Germany, Scandinavia) from about 1550 to 1750. The jigg ‘combined three arts in which the Elizabethans delighted and excelled – drama, music and the dance’, though it was aimed at the ‘groundlings, not the literati’ of Elizabethan society (Baskervill). The jigg derives from a combination of the improvised popular songs of earlier centuries with the even older traditional ritual dances associated with the important festivals of the year. Some of the latter, for harvest festivals, with sung dialogue, mime and dance, survived until the end of the 19th century. The frequent use of the terms ‘Northern jigg’ and ‘Scottish jigg’ suggests that it may have originated in the more northerly parts of Great Britain; in the Hebrides a similar kind of folk art persisted into the 20th century.

By the middle of the 16th century the jigg had assumed its standard form: a short burlesque comedy for two to five characters, sung in verse to one or more well-known tunes, interspersed with much lively dancing and performed by a team of professional comedians. The first reference to a London stage performance of a jigg is in 1582, and the first entry of a printed jigg was made on the Stationers' Register in 1591. But there is little doubt that jiggs were being acted in England and on the Continent many years earlier than this.

Nicholas Tarleton, one of the greatest of Elizabethan comedians, was largely responsible for setting the form of the jigg and for making it fashionable on the London stage. His pupils and successors, William Kemp (who in 1586 led the Earl of Leicester's players when they visited Copenhagen and subsequently Saxony), Sackville, Spencer and Reynolds, transported the vogue for jiggs to the Continent, and by 1598 the German playwright Jakob Ayrer had written and published many Singspiele directly modelled on the English jiggs performed by the companies of English strolling players. In the London theatre from 1590 to 1625 a jigg was the recognized way of ending a more serious entertainment, and jiggs were even performed between the acts of a tragedy or history. During the early years of the 17th century the jigg tended more and more to bawdry rather than wit, and the better-class London theatres (Bankside, Globe) left the presentation of jiggs to their rival concerns (Curtain, Red Bull, Fortune). So notoriously rowdy did the jiggs become at the Fortune Theatre, in fact, that in 1612 the Middlesex Justices of the Peace issued an order banning them throughout the country – not that the ban seems to have been very effectively carried out. By 1625 the jigg was becoming transformed into either a more formal song-and-dance act (partly as a result of the influence of the court masque; a clear line of development runs from this kind of jigg down to the ‘English operas’ of Locke, Christopher Gibbons and Purcell) or else a prose farce or ‘droll’ (this form persisted to the late 18th century, often taking the form of a ‘potted’ version of a straight play). Traces of the earlier jigg tradition can also be detected in the popularity of the jig as a Restoration dance, and in the acted ballad of the type represented by D'Urfey's Pray now John let Jug prevail (from his play The Wonders in the Sun). By this time the jigg proper was obsolete in England, though a degenerate version of the most famous of all jiggs, Pickelherring, was performed at Dresden as late as 1683 and in Stockholm in 1733. The last trace of its influence is perhaps the music hall song-and-dance act.

Much of the evidence for the history and development of the jigg is purely circumstantial and must be pieced together very laboriously from many sources. The majority of early jiggs, printed and manuscript, are lost; no jiggs were entered on the Stationers' Register from 1595 to 1623; no jiggs in English dating from 1600 to 1650 are extant; of the 36 jiggs printed at the end of Baskervill's study 17 are broadside ballads, 12 are in German or Dutch and only seven are in anything like an English acting version. The tunes to which the jiggs were performed are sometimes not recorded at all, sometimes identifiable only after much search, and sometimes printed in astonishingly corrupt versions. As for the way in which the tunes were performed, the evidence is once again disappointingly meagre. One of the best-known jigg comedians, Spencer, had 19 actors and 16 musicians in his troupe in 1611, but this seems to have been an unusually large number and not typical of the average company. There is good reason to believe that some at least of the consort lessons of Morley (1599, 2/1611) and Rosseter (1609), and the manuscript pieces for the same combination in the University Library, Cambridge, were used by or written for the jigg companies. Some of the pieces in GB-Lbl Add.15117 may also be related to this tradition. The instruments used in the Morley and Rosseter pieces were all portable; acting companies are known to have owned sets of instruments of the right kind; and many of the tunes themselves were in common use as jigg tunes. Known jigg tunes include Go from my window, Fortune my foe, Walsingham, Rowland (also called Neighbour Robert and Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home), The Spanish Pavan, Sellengers Round, The Hunt is Up, Watkins Ale, Tarleton's Willy, Kemp's Jigg and others; all these may be found in one or other of the collections listed above, and the German version of the jigg called Rowland, published in 1599, states that the tune is ‘Zu gebrauchen auff allerley Instrumenten’. A survey of the instrumental repertory in printed books and manuscripts of the period 1590–1630 shows that over the whole of northern and north-western Europe the amateur – and even the semi-professional – musician was playing the same tunes, whether he was English, Dutch or German, and there seems little doubt that the jigg was the medium through which very many of these tunes were disseminated.




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