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Singing Simpkin

Singing Simpkin

by 1595; Robert Cox's Actaeon and Diana, 1656; Francis Kirkman's The Wits, or Sport upon Sport, Part I, 1662
author of text

Image details:
The frontispiece of Francis Kirkman’s edition of The Wits, or Sport upon Sport, Part 1 (1662), which contains Singing Simpkin
The earliest surviving English text appears in Robert Cox’s Actaeon and Diana, published in 1656 (no tune titles are given); however the Jig was certainly written much earlier than this: an entry in the Stationers Register of 1595 entitled ‘Kemps newe Jygge betwixt a souldiour and a Miser and Sym the Clown’ probably refers to Singing Simpkin, and points to Kemp being its author as well as performer. More conclusively, Johannes Bolte (in Die Singspiele der Englischen Komödianten, 1893) refers to a songsheet published in Basel in 1592 or shortly after, which calls for ‘the first tune from Singing Simpkin’. Bolte also gives a German translation of Singing Simpkin dated 1620, (entitled ‘Pickelhering in der Kiste’); it is very close to the English version and almost certainly the result of one of Kemp’s trips to Europe. The final two verses in which Simpkin gets his comeuppance are absent from this German version and may well have been added much later. Our recording includes them for completeness—and, besides, they were good fun to do! Cox doesn’t appear to have tampered with the rest of the Jig, which is packed with sexual innuendo (‘staff’, ‘penny’, ‘purse’, ‘coin’, ‘key’, ‘lock’ etc). The German version isn’t always so subtle: ‘For something has some savour’ (bp verse 2) appears as ‘Ich hab mich bald beschissen’—‘I have just shit myself’. It is possible that Cox toned down the English version to appease the Puritan ethic at the time of publication but I don’t think so as the style and skill of the writing is consistent throughout.

Simpkin, a clown
Bluster, a roarer
Old Husband

A pregnant housewife and her young lover, Simpkin, are canoodling in her home while her impotent old husband is out hunting. Her second lover, the boastful soldier Bluster, unexpectedly arrives and Simpkin hides in a chest, cheekily popping up the lid now and again to comment on the action. Hearing her husband knocking at the door, Wife and Bluster hatch a scenario: Bluster will pretend he has run into the house to chase a thief. Bluster is persuaded to leave and Wife and Husband release Simpkin from the chest. The Husband is sent out to buy wine and Simpkin and Wife immediately continue where they left off. The suspicious Husband bursts back in and catches them at it and Wife and Husband together beat Simpkin out of the house.

from notes by Lucie Skeaping © 2009


The English Stage Jig


Part 1: The Crost Couple  Blind Cupid hath made my heart for to bleed (Wife/Simpkin)
Track 13 on CDA67754 [1'54]
Part 2: Prince Rupert's March  There is a Royster at the door (Servant/Simpkin/Wife/Bluster/Old Husband
Track 14 on CDA67754 [7'22]

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