That heading got some people's attention I bet! These are just some simple musings on Playford, possibly as a result of watching too many videos online.
No, I'm not suggesting that people are playing too many tunes from the Playford publications. What I'm considering that we may be setting to much store in what they can tell us about English country dancing, its origins and how it was practised.
That is, "overplaying Playford's hand".
A lot of attention is given to Playford. Often as if these books were true publications of record or academic treatises rather than a run of commercial imprints by London publishers who were not themselves musicians or dance tutors.
There is nothing in the Playford publications that indicates that they were popular dances or tunes of the time, only what the publisher chose to place in his book. In fact, I wonder that many popular pieces were left out precisely because they were popular or too simple or unsophisticated. Playford was publishing for a paying audience who were looking for the new and unusual in their dancing classes.
Today we can discern many different trends in English social dancing. From the more "sedate" to the more "energetic". There are dance events for the more accomplished dancers, mad festival fun, simple knees ups, cerebral club dances and all those bread-and-butter dances for PTAs, wedding and parties.
The English Dancing Master was publishing at a time of great social change. John Playford published the first edition during the Commonwealth and the Dancing Master imprint continued until 1728. The economic, social and class makeup of English society was changing dramatically and the boom in publication in the 17th century was an indicator of this.
When you consider the economic, social and class changes of that period, can it really be that one set of dance books (even as they themselves changed and developed) could encompass the whole of it? That they could be representative of the whole "scene"?
The thought of "Playford" and what we think he wrote seems to have distorted our popular imagining of English country dance of the 17th and 18th centuries. For some people this imagining defines what English country dance is to this day. Though I think it's clear that the Dancing Master books were in fact a development of country dancing for the middle and upper classes rather than a reflection of it.
I don't think there is anything particularly wrong in using Playford's collections, or the music from them either. Far from it.
However, any modern usage of Playford is perforce a modern interpretation. When people use of Playford for historical re-enactment it reflects their prejudices about the past. The choice of Playford is of course also a part of those prejudices.
I find it strange that Playford is often used as a blueprint for anything from the renaissance to the time of the Napoleonic Wars. What any modern interpretation of Playford can never be is definitive of any period, since that is not what the Playford books can be (they don't contain enough information) or were ever intended to be.