A Transcription and Brief Commentary on Robert Coplande's "Manner of dauncynge of bace dauces"

[ This article appeared in volume 2 of the Letter of Dance. ]

by Sir Patri du Chat Gris, O.L., O.P.

In 1521, the English author and printer Robert Coplande published a text on the writing and pronunciation of the French language compiled by the poet, scholar and divine, Alexander Barclay. Coplande appended to this text a brief text of instruction in the dancing of French basse dances. This tract comprises most of the second column of the penultimate page of the printed book plus two full columns of text on the last page. While this purports to be a translation of a French text, no original French version of precisely this text is known. There are, however, considerable similarities between Coplande's text and the several contemporary or near-contemporary French texts on this dance form. Mabel Dolmetsch published the text of this little tract in her Dances of England and France from 1450 to 1600 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1949; reprinted by Da Capo Press, N. Y., 1975). The following is a transcription based directly on a copy in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, of Coplande's original version, without the modern spelling or punctuation adopted by Dolmetsch.

While attempting to present the most literal transcription possible, some concessions to modern printing and the limitations of standard characters sets have been made. Coplande frequently uses the thorn symbol to represent the letter combination "th". Rather than represent this symbol by the letter "y", and thereby promote the confusion which already exists between these two independent symbols (promulgated by such modern absurdities as pronouncing the first word of "ye olde shoppe" as "ye" rather than "the", which latter pronunciation would have been used by any literate person in the pre-modern era), I have expanded this abbreviation to "th", as would a contemporary of Coplande. A thorn with a small "e" above it has been expanded to "the", while a thorn with a small "t" above it has been expanded to "that". A "w" with a small "t" above it has been expanded to "with". A small horizontal slash above a vowel was a common abbreviation for the letter "n" directly after the vowel, and this abbreviation has as well been expanded. Coplande uses the typographic symbol "u" to represent the letter "v" as well, and here we have adopted Coplande's practice. Coplande's comma symbol looks rather like a diagonal slash "/", which the reader is free to imagine as present wherever we have placed a comma in the text below. His symbol for the word "and" looks rather like a superposition of the letters "et"; while it does not thereby literally resemble our modern ampersand, the latter has been used to represent it. The following is Coplande's text:

Here foloweth the maner of dauncynge of bace dauces after the use of fraunce & other places translated out of frenche in englyshe by Robert coplande.

For to daunce ony1 bace daunce there behoueth.iiii pacis, that is to wite syngle, double: repryse, & braule. And ye ought fyrst to make reuerence towarde the lady, & than make .ii. syngles .i. double, a repryse, a braule. And this rule ye ought alway to kepe at the beginnynge, as it is sayd. And somtyme is made .ii. syngles after the doubles, & before the reprinses [sic], & that is done whan the measures ben parfite. Also whan ony songe or daunce is wryten .R. betokeneth reuerence. By .ss. double betokeneth .ii. syngle paces, & by .d. betokeneth .i. double pace. And yf there be. ddd. ye ought to make iii. doubles after as the daunce requyreth, for somtyme is made but .i. double, & somtime iii. or .v. one after another, and therfore is ddddd. thus wryten. And whan .r. is wryten it betokeneth, repryse. & yf .rrr. be wryten it signyfieth .iii. repryses, & .rrrrr. betokeneth five. For ye ought never to make .ii. nor .iiii togyder, nor of the doubles also, for the doubles & the repryses ben2 ever odde in nombre.

Also all bace daunces begyn by syngles or reuerence, and ende with braule.3

Also it behoveth to knowe the nombre of notes of every bace daunce, & the paces after the measure4 of the notes. Therefore ye ought to wyte that fyrst ye ought to make reuerence with the lyfte fote, & than a braule with the right fote, than two syngle paces, the fyrst with the lyfte fote and the seconde with the ryght fote in goynge forwarde, & ye must reyse5 your body.

The fyrst double pace is made with the lyft fote in reysynge6 the body steppynge .iii. pace forwarde lyghtly, the fyrst with the lyfte fote, the seconde with the ryght fote, & the thyrde with the lyft fote, as the fyrst.

The seconde double pace begynneth with the ryght fote goynge thre paces forwarde as is sayd of the fyrst in reysynge the body. &c.

The thyrd double pace is done as the first.

It is to note that there be never .ii. double paces togyder, for the doubles & repryses be euer odde in nombre .i.iii. or .v. &c.

A repryse alone ought to be made with the ryght fote in drawynge the ryght fote bakwarde a lytyll to the other fote.

The seconde repryse ought to be made (whan ye make .iii. at ones7 ) with the lyft fote in reysynge the body in lyke wyse.

The thyrde repryse is made in place and as the fyrst also.

And merke8 for all that is sayd that every of these paces occupyeth as moche tyme the one as the other. That is to wyte. a reuerence, one note. a double, one note. two syngles one note. a repryse, one note. a braule, one note.

And ye ought to wyte that in some places of fraunce they call the repryses, desmarches and the braule they call, conge. in englyshe leue.9

This done ye ought to put in wrytynge for a repryse .r. & for thre reprises thus rrr, and for the braule thus .b.

Bace daunces.

Filles a marier, with .iiii. measures.

R.b.ss.ddd.rrr.b. ss.d.rrr.b. 10ss.ddd.ss.rrr.b ss.d.ss.rrr.b.

Le petit rouen, with .iii. measures.

R.b.ss.ddddd.ss.rrr.b. ss.d.ss.rrr.b. ss.ddddd.ss.rrr.b. ss.ddd.ss.rrr.b.

Amours, with two measures.

R.b.ss.b.ss.rrr.b. ss.ddd.ss.rrr.b.

La gorriere, thre measures.

R.b.ss.ddd.rrr.b. ss.d.r.b. Unparfyte. ss.ddd.rrr.b.

La allemande. three measures.

R.b.ss.ddd.ss.rrr.b. ss.d.ss.r.b. ss.ddd.r.b. Unparfyte.

La brette, foure measures.

R.b.ss.d.ss.r.b. ss.d.r.b. ss.ddd.r.b. ss.d.ss.r.b.

La royne, foure measures.

R.b.ss.ddd.r.b. ss.d.r.b. ss.ddd.r.b. ss.d.ss.r.b.

These daunces have I set at the ende of this boke to thentent11 that euery lerner of the sayd boke after theyr dylygent study may rejoyce somwhat theyr spyrytes honestly in eschewynge of ydlenesse12 the portresse of vyces.

Imprynted at London in the Fletestrete13 at the synge of the rose Garlande by Robert coplande. the yere of our lorde.M.CCCCC.xxi. the .xxii. day of Marche.

As was mentioned above, Coplande's text does not appear to be a direct translation of any specific known French tract. It is remarkably similar in overall content, however, to the introductory essay in Lart et instruction de bien dancer published in Paris in the last decade of the fifteenth century by Michel Toulouze, and to the almost identical one (once one reorders the pages from their misbound state) in the so-called Brussels manuscript.14 These two works begin, however, with a discussion of the different length measures present within basse dances: "grand" if it includes five double steps, "moyenne" if it includes three double steps and "petite" if one double step. While Coplande indicates that measures may have one, three or five double steps, he does not mention the above classifications. Moreover, Coplande explicitly discusses the reverance, assigning it the symbol "R". While the choreographies presented in the above French tracts include this symbol, they do not explicitly discuss it in their introductions. Finally, both these French tracts adopt the term "desmarche" for the retreating step referred to by Coplande as a reprise ("repryse"), an alternative which Coplande suggests is regional. The French tracts explicitly discuss an additional way of classifying measures independent of whether they are "grand", "moyenne" or "petite": they may be perfect ("parfaites") if there are singles after the doubles and before the three reprises (i.e. "desmarches") and the branle; more than perfect ("plus que parfaites") if there are singles after the doubles and before a single reprise and branle; and imperfect ("imparfaites") if there are no singles directly after the doubles. This corresponds to Coplande's usage of the terms "Perfect" and "Unperfect" (for imperfect) in labeling the measures within his choreographies, though Coplande apparently ignores the distinction between perfect and more than perfect, using the former term for both (as in the third measure of "La allemande"). Curiously, in "La brette", Coplande invents an additional term, "Half parfyte", apparently to denote the case of a single reprise not preceded by singles; but this same measure was classed as imperfect ("Unparfyte") two dances above.

Outside of the reverence, about which the French tracts are silent and Coplande is nearly so, telling us only that it is done with the left foot at the beginning of basse dances and that it requires one note of music, Coplande's comments on individual steps pretty much match those of the French tracts. Coplande, however, refers to the branle after the reverence as being made with the right foot, while the French tracts tell us that it begins with the left foot and ends with the right, as well as providing some additional hints as to the movement involved (i.e. that it involves branling (swaying?) from one foot to the other). Coplande provides no details on the performing of single steps (beyond the fact that two single steps require one note of music), while the French tracts provide a very little more. Coplande's brief comments on the performing of double steps could well be a translation of the Brussels manuscript (omitting a superfluous continuation in Brussels on doing a fourth and fifth double steps). The sense of the corresponding passage in the Toulouze version is identical, though a brief phrase of text is omitted here which is present in Brussels and Coplande. The brief comments by Coplande on the reprise also correspond quite closely to those in Brussels, including the detail of the raising ("reysynge") the body ("eslevant son corps" in Brussels); whereas Toulouze's version, while for the most part word for word the same as Brussels, here uses the phrase "enclinant son corps", which suggests an inclining rather than raising of the body (perhaps both motions are involved).

On the matter of the term reprise rather than "desmarche", it is necessary to bring in a third French tract, the S'ensuyvent Plusieurs Basses Dances Tant Communes Que Incommunes published by Jacques Moderne in 1532 or 1533.15 Unlike Brussels and Toulouze, Moderne adopts the term reprise (literally "reprinse", which corresponds to Coplande's spelling at his first reference to this step, but not thereafter), thereby agreeing with Coplande. After a brief advertisement on the value of the instructions to follow, Moderne begins (much like Brussels and Toulouze) with a description of large, medium and small ("grandes", "moyennes" and "petites") measures, beginning with:


The large measure of the basse dance must begin and proceed with a reverence, then with a bransle, then with two simple steps and with one double, then with two simple steps as before, and then after with a reprise and a bransle.16

Both in referring to the reverence and in having a single double step in his archetype measure, Moderne's passage resembles Coplande's opening more closely than did Brussels and Toulouze (all the more remarkably so in that in doing so Moderne has described a small measure rather than a large one). On the issues of step technique raised above, Coplande's agreement with Moderne is neither better nor worse than it is with the earlier French tracts. Moderne does explicitly discuss the reverence, but unlike Coplande has it commence with the right foot. Moderne's double step description is similar to Coplande's, but not as close as Brussels. Moreover, Moderne refers to both a raising ("eslever") of the body in the first double step and to an inclining ("enclinant") of the body in the second. Curiously, in using the phrase "enclinant son corps", Moderne follows this by the phrase "comme devant" (i.e. as before), apparently ignoring the fact that in the description just before the instruction was to raise ("eslever") one's body. Perhaps these two French terms did not have meanings at the time as different as our present translations into their apparent English cognates would suggest. This could account for the curious discrepancy between Brussels and Toulouze on this point.17 On the reprise, Moderne's brief references to the step do not parallel Coplande's as well as the Brussels manuscript did, except in the single point of the use of the word itself.

The last issue of comparison to be raised here is in the specific choreographies presented by Coplande. Coplande's first dance, "Filles a marier", is present in the same form in both Brussels and Toulouze, but there are some differences between their version and Coplande's. Specifically, in the French tracts, there are singles after the three doubles in the first measure (making it like the third) and not after the one double in the fourth measure (making it like the second). Coplande's second dance, "Le petit rouen", differs from the dance by that name in Brussels and Toulouze in that they have five measures -- with five doubles in the first measure, one in the second, three in the third, one in the fourth and three in the fifth -- with no singles directly after the doubles in any of the measures. Coplande's third dance, "Amours", is not present in Brussels and Toulouze (the closest title present being "Mamour" which has three measures and does not quite conform to the standard formula), but a dance by that name is in Moderne. Moderne's choreography, however, reads: R b ss d r d ss r b ss ddd r d ss r b. The combination of a reprise followed directly by a double, common in Moderne choreographies, is present in none of Coplande's and in only a few (e.g. "Avignon") of the Brussels and Toulouze choreographies.

In summary, while the Brussels and Toulouse tracts are clearly versions of the same work, the same cannot be said for Coplande's. While Coplande could have based part of his work on these earlier French tracts, other parts required either his own composition or his reliance on another (presently unknown) French tract. I see no reason to doubt his claim that the latter is the case. Moderne's published book is clearly irrelevant to the specific issue of Coplande's source or sources, since it was printed a full decade afterwards. Of course, a manuscript version of the Moderne text could have existed considerably earlier; but the differences between Coplande's treatment of the subject and Moderne's in any case preclude Coplande's reliance on such a text (again, unless we grant considerable editing and, more important, very curious selection criteria for what to include and what to omit). Moderne's text itself seems to show a reliance in some places on the Brussels and Toulouze texts, but also introduces modifications and additions. While these may have been Moderne's own, they may also have derived from another (presently unknown) tract. Note that while Coplande's and Moderne's tracts have less in common with each other than either does with Brussels and Toulouze, they nevertheless show particular agreement (in referring to the reverence, and to the reprise rather than the desmarche) in precisely those areas in which they both most differ from the Brussels and Toulouze tracts. Since I am doubtful that Moderne would have given an English tract such as Coplande's much credence when it came to describing the French basse dance, this correspondence suggests to me that they may have both drawn upon an alternate French tract other than (or perhaps in addition to) the Brussels and Toulouze tracts.

A last detail to be raised concerns the symbol adopted for representing the reprise. Although Brussels and Toulouze refer to this step as a "desmarche", they both use the symbol "r" to represent it in their choreographies. This is not unreasonable, the double step having appropriated the letter "d". Curiously, Toulouze uses a different typeface "r" (one which resembles a modern 2) for the reprise than that dominant in his text (though he does use this alternate "r" in some rare places in the text such as the second letter in the word "branle"). In the transcription of Coplande's tract above, I have similarly used the letter "r". It should be noted, however, that while Coplande's symbol for the reprise resembles this letter, it is not the "r" used by Coplande in his text (except in the penultimate line of his explanatory text where he is referring specifically to the symbol to be used for the reprise). In fact, Coplande's reprise symbol looks rather more like a modern 3 with the bottom tail extending downward rather than curving up. I draw attention to this perhaps trivial matter of notation because of the apparent correspondence between this symbol and the symbol (which also looks much like a numerical 3) used to represent the reprise in the basse dance choreographies in the Cervera manuscript (which consists of a pair of undated sheets, usually ascribed to the 1490's, preserved in a notarial manual at the Archivo Historico (fonds. notarial 3,3) in Cervera, and reprinted in facsimile in: F. Carreras y Candi, ed. Folklore y Costumbres de Espana, 2d ed. (Barcelona: 1934), vol. I, p. vii; vol. II, p. 303). The Cervera manuscript uses line symbols rather than letters to represent basse dance steps, and it has been suggested (by Dr. Ingrid Brainard, in conversation) that this 3 symbol is intended to represent graphically the backward motion of the foot in the reprise. If so, Coplande may have had a similar motive in selecting (or perhaps even specially manufacturing) this particular typeface "r" to represent this step.

1. any

2. The last character is imperfectly printed

3. Coplande here inserts his symbol which elsewhere in the tract indicates a new paragraph, but in this one case he does so without beginning the following text on a new line.

4. New page begins here

5. raise

6. raising

7. once

8. mark

9. leave

10. Second column of text begins here

11. the intent

12. idleness

13. Fleetstreet

14. Bibliotheque Royale, Ms. 9085. See: The Letter of Dance, fourteenth issue [and p.11 below - Ed].

15. See: The Letter of Dance, tenth issue [and p.1 above- Ed].

16. Translated by: Geoffrey Mathias in The Letter of Dance, tenth issue, p. 5 [and p.1 above].

17. See above; but see as well The Letter of Dance, fourteenth issue, p. 2 [and p.11 below - Ed].

Webbed by Gregory Blount of Isenfir (Greg Lindahl) (lindahl@pbm.com)