Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank

Macbeth

Text in Performance

A black and white image from 1600 showing William Kempe jigging, accompanied by

What is a jig?

I came to work at the Globe not knowing that all of Shakespeare’s plays ended with this wonderful release, a celebratory dance. It is fascinating that ‘jig’ can be defined as a ‘dance song game’, which emphasises the jig’s playful nature. Jigs combine song and dance in a frisky way. At the time there would have probably been lyrics – maybe a series of songs – but somebody would have sung and danced. It could be a parody of what had happened; they could employ acrobats to come on and entertain; or there could be a masked element about it. With so many possibilities, it was a good opportunity for people to let their hair down at the end of the play.

We have no record or notation of exactly how the dances were performed in Shakespeare’s time and the jig is different for every play at the Globe. We know that they were performed at the end of the play as a way of bringing together the players and audience, for both sides to acknowledge and celebrate what they have been through together. Jigs were even performed at the end of tragedies, which would have helped lift the mood of the audience. At first you might not think that it makes sense to dance at the end of a tragedy, but it does, there is something critical in the ritual of picking yourself up again after something awful and moving forward. There’s a deep process that you recognise which I think is connected to the rituals at funerals and weddings, a sort of social process.

We invent a new jig at the end of each show depending on the characters. Perhaps trying to bring key characters together, or if you’ve had two warring characters to put them together in the dance. In Richard II we had a bit of fun in that way, bringing the two main characters into a dance off with each other!

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