Folk-lore of Shakespeare, by T.F. Thiselton Dyer, , at sacred-texts.com
Very many of the old sports and pastimes in popular use in Shakespeare's day, have long ago not only been laid aside, but in the course of years have become entirely forgotten. This is to be regretted, as a great number of these capital diversions were admirably suited both for in and out of doors; the simplicity which marked them being one of their distinguishing charms. That Shakespeare, too, took an interest in these good old sources of recreation, may be gathered from the frequent reference which he has made to them; his mention of some childish game even serving occasionally as an illustration in a passage characterized by its force and vigour.
Archery.—In Shakespeare's day this was a very popular diversion, and the "Knights of Prince Arthur's Round Table" was a society of archers instituted by Henry VIII., and encouraged in the reign of Elizabeth. 1 Fitzstephen, who wrote in the reign of Henry II., notices it among the summer pastimes of the London youth; and the repeated Statutes from the 13th to the 16th century enforcing the use of the bow, generally ordered the leisure time upon holidays to be passed in its exercise. 2 Shakespeare seems to have been intimately acquainted with the numerous terms connected with archery, many of which we find scattered throughout his plays. Thus, in "Love's Labour's Lost" (iv. 1), Maria uses the expression, "Wide o’ the bow hand," a term which signified a good deal to the left of the mark.
The "clout" was the nail or pin of the target, and "from
the passages," says Dyce, 1 "which I happen to recollect in our early writers, I should say that the clout, or pin, stood in the centre of the inner circle of the butts, which circle, being painted white, was called the white; that, to 'hit the white' was a considerable feat, but that to 'hit or cleave the clout or pin' was a much greater one,—though, no doubt, the expressions were occasionally used to signify the same thing, viz., to hit the mark." In "Love's Labour's Lost" (iv. 1), Costard says of Boyet,—"Indeed, a’ must shoot nearer, or he'll ne’er hit the clout"; and in "2 Henry IV." (iii. 2), Shallow says of old Double,—"A’ would have clapped i’ the clout at twelve score,"—that is, he would have hit the clout at twelve score yards. And King Lear (iv. 6), employs the phrase "i’ the clout, i’ the clout: hewgh!"
In "Romeo and Juliet" (ii. 4), where Mercutio relates how Romeo is "shot through the ear with a love song; the very pin of his heart cleft with the blind bow-boy's butt-shaft," the metaphor of course is from archery.
The term "loose" was the technical one for the discharging of an arrow, and occurs in "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 2).
According to Capell, 2 the words of Bottom, in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (i. 2), "hold or cut bow-strings," were a proverbial phrase, and alluded to archery. "When a party was made at butts, assurance of meeting was given in the words of that phrase, the sense of the person using them being that he would 'hold' or keep promise, or they might 'cut his bow-strings,'—demolish him for an archer." Whether, adds Dyce, "this be the true explanation of the phrase, I am unable to determine."
All hid, all hid.—Biron, in "Love's Labour's Lost" (iv. 3), no doubt means the game well known as hide-and-seek,—"All hid, all hid; an old infant play." The following note, however, in Cotgrave's "French and English Dictionary," has been adduced to show that he may possibly mean blind man's buff; "Clignemasset.—The childish play called Hod-man-blind [i.e., blind-man's-buff], Harrie-racket, or are you all hid."
Backgammon.—The old name for this game was "Tables," as in "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 2),—
An interesting history of this game will be found in Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes" (1876, pp. 419–421).
Barley-break.—This game, called also the "Last Couple in Hell," which is alluded to in the "Two Noble Kinsmen," (iv. 3), was played by six people—three of each sex,—who were coupled by lot. 1 A piece of ground was then chosen, and divided into three compartments, of which the middle one was called hell. It was the object of the couple condemned to this division to catch the others, who advanced from the two extremities; in which case a change of situation took place, and hell was filled by the couple who were excluded by preoccupation from the other places. This catching, however, was not so easy, as by the rules of the game, the middle couple were not to separate before they had succeeded, while the others might break hands whenever they found themselves hard pressed. When all had been taken in turn, the last couple were said "to be in hell," and the game ended.
The game is frequently mentioned by old writers, and appears to have been very popular. From Herrick's Poems, it is seen that the couples in their confinement occasionally solaced themselves by kisses,—
In Scotland it was called barla-breikis, and was, says Jamieson, "generally played by young people in a corn-yard, hence its name barla-bracks, about the stacks." 2 The term "hell," says Nares, 3 "was indiscreet, and must have
produced many profane allusions, besides familiarising what ought always to preserve its due effect of awe upon the mind." Both its names are alluded to in the following passage in Shirley's "Bird in a Cage"—
Base.—This was a rustic game, known also as "Prison base" or "Prison bars." It is mentioned in "Cymbeline" (v. 3) by Posthumus—
And in "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (i. 2) by Lucetta—
The success of this pastime depended upon the agility of the candidates, and their skill in running. Early in the reign of Edward III. it is spoken of as a childish amusement, and was prohibited to be played in the avenues of the palace at Westminster during the session of Parliament, because of the interruption it occasioned to the members and others in passing to and fro as their business required. It was also played by men, and especially in Cheshire and other adjoining counties, where it seems to have been in high repute among all classes. Strutt thus describes the game: 2—"The performance of this pastime requires two parties of equal number, each of them having a base or home to themselves, at the distance of about twenty or thirty yards. The players then on either side taking hold of hands extend themselves in length, and opposite to each other, as far as they conveniently can, always remembering that one of them must touch the base. When any one of them quits the hand of his fellow and runs into the field, which is called giving the chase, he is immediately followed by one of his opponents. He is again followed by a second from the former side, and he by a second opponent, and so on alternately until as many are out as choose to run, every one pursuing the man he first followed and no other; and if he overtake him near enough to touch him, his party claims one towards their game and
both return home. They then run forth again and again in like manner until the number is completed that decides the victory. This number is optional, and rarely exceeds twenty."
The phrase to "bid the base," means to run fast, challenging another to pursue. It occurs again in "Venus and Adonis"—
In Spenser's "Faerie Queene" (bk. v., canto 8), we read—
Bat-fowling.—This sport, which is noticed in the "Tempest" (ii. 1) by Sebastian, was common in days gone by. It is minutely described in Markham's "Hunger's Prevention" (1600), which is quoted by Dyce ("Glossary," pp. 29, 30). The term "bat-fowling," however, had another signification, says Mr Harting, 1 in Shakespeare's day, and it may have been in this secondary sense that it is used in the "Tempest," being a slang word for a particular mode of cheating. "Bat-fowling" was practised about dusk, when the rogue pretended to have dropped a ring or a jewel at the door of some well furnished shop, and going in asked the apprentice of the house to light his candle to look for it. After some peering about, the bat-fowler would drop the candle as if by accident. "Now, I pray you, good young man," he would say, "do so much as light the candle again." While the boy was away the rogue plundered the shop, and having stolen everything he could find stole himself away.
Billiards.—Shakespeare is guilty of an anachronism in "Antony and Cleopatra" (ii. 5), where he makes Cleopatra say—
[paragraph continues] —the game being unknown to the ancients. The modern manner of playing at billiards differs from that formerly in use. At the commencement of the last century, 1 the billiard-table was square, having only three pockets for the balls to run in, situated on one of the sides—that is, at each corner, and the third between them. About the middle of the table, a small arch of iron was placed, and at a little distance from it an upright cone called a king. At certain periods of the game, it was necessary for the balls to be driven through the one and round the other, without knocking either of them down, which was not easily effected, because they were not fastened to the table.
Bone-ace.—This old game, popularly called "One-and-Thirty," is alluded to by Grumio in "Taming of the Shrew" (i. 2):—"Well, was it fit for a servant to use his master so; being, perhaps, for aught I see, two-and-thirty—a pip out." 2 It was very like the French game of "Vingt-un," only a longer reckoning. Strutt 3 says, that "perhaps Bone-Ace is the same as the game called Ace of Hearts, prohibited with all lotteries by cards and dice, An. 12 Geor. II., Cap. 38 sect. 2." It is mentioned in Massinger's "Fatal Dowry" (ii. 2):—"You think, because you served my lady's mother [you] are thirty-two years old, which is a pip out, you know."
The phrase "to be two-and-thirty," a pip out, was an old cant term applied to a person who was intoxicated.
Bo-peep.—This nursery amusement, which consisted in peeping from behind something, and crying "Bo!" is referred to by the Fool in "King Lear" (i. 4):—"That such a king should play bo-peep." In Sherwood's "Dictionary" it is defined, "Jeu d’enfant; ou (plustost) des nourrices aux petits enfans; se cachans le visage et puis se monstrant." Minsheu's derivation of "bo-peep," from the noise which chickens make when they come out of the shell, is, says Douce ("Illustrations of Shakspeare," p. 405) more whimsical than just."
Bowls.—Frequent allusions occur to this game, which
seems to have been a popular pastime in olden times. The small ball, now called the jack, at which the players aim, was sometimes termed the "mistress." In "Troilus and Cressida" (iii. 2), Pandarus says: "So, so; rub 1 on, and kiss the mistress." A bowl that kisses the jack or mistress, is in the most advantageous position; hence "to kiss the jack" served to denote a state of great advantage. Thus, in "Cymbeline" (ii. 1), Cloten exclaims, "Was there ever man that had such luck! when I kissed the jack, upon an up-cast to be hit away! I had a hundred pound on’t." There is another allusion to this game, according to Staunton, in "King John" (ii. 1):—"On the outward eye of fickle France" the aperture on one side which contains the bias or weight that inclines the bowl in running from a direct course, being sometimes called the eye.
A further reference to this game occurs in the following dialogue in "Richard II." (iii. 4):—
—the bias, as stated above, being a weight inserted in one side of a bowl, in order to give it a particular inclination in bowling. "To run against the bias," therefore, became a proverb. Thus, to quote another instance, in the "Taming of the Shrew" (iv. 5), Petruchio says—
And in "Troilus and Cressida," (iv. 5), the term "bias-cheek" is used to denote a cheek swelling out like the bias of a bowl. 2
Cards.—Some of the old terms connected with card-playing
are curious, a few of which are alluded to by Shakespeare. Thus, in "King Lear" (v. 1), Edmund says,—
alluding to the cardle table, where to carry out a side meant to carry out the game with your partner successfully. So, "to set up a side" was to become partners in the game; "to pull or pluck down a side" was to lose it. 1
A lurch at cards denoted an easy victory. So, in "Coriolanus" (ii. 2), Cominius says,—"He lurch’d all swords of the garland," meaning, as Malone says, that Coriolanus gained from all other warriors the wreath of victory, with ease, and incontestable superiority.
A pack of cards was formerly termed "a deck of cards," as in "3 Henry VI." (v. 1),—"The king was slily finger’d from the deck."
Again, "to vie" was also a term at cards, and meant particularly to increase the stakes, and generally to challenge anyone to a contention, bet, wager, &c. So, Cleopatra (v. 2), says,—
Cherry Pit.—This consisted in throwing cherry stones into a little hole,—a game, says Nares, still practised with dumps or money. 2 In "Twelfth Night" (iii. 4), Sir Toby alludes to it,—"What, man! ’tis not for gravity to play at cherry-pit with Satan." Nash, in his "Pierce Penilesse," speaking of the disfigurement of ladies’ faces by painting, says,—"You may play at cherry-pit in the dint of their cheeks."
Chess.—As might be expected, several allusions occur in Shakespeare's plays to this popular game. In the "Tempest," (v. 1), Ferdinand and Miranda are represented playing at it; and in "King John" (ii. 1), Elinor says:—
In the "Taming of the Shrew" (i. 1), Katharina asks,—
alluding, as Douce 1 suggests, to the chess term of stale mate which is used when the game is ended by the king being alone and unchecked, and then forced into a situation from which he is unable to move without going into check. This is a dishonourable termination to the adversary, who thereby loses the game. Thus, in Bacon's Twelfth essay, "They stand still like a stale at chess, where it is no mate, but yet the game cannot stir."
Dice.—Amongst the notices of this game, may be quoted "Henry V." (iv. prologue),
Edgar, in "King Lear" (iii. 4), says,—"Wine loved I deeply, dice dearly." Pistol, in "Merry Wives of Windsor" (i. 3), gives a double allusion,—
"Gourds" were false dice, with a secret cavity scooped out like a gourd. "Fullams" were also false dice, "loaded with metal on one side, so as better to produce high throws, or to turn up low numbers, as was required, and were hence named 'high men' or 'low men,' also 'high fullams' and low fullams." 2 It has been suggested that dice were termed fullams either because Fulham was the resort of sharpers, or because they were principally manufactured there.
Dun is in the mire.—This is a Christmas sport, which Gifford 3 describes as follows,—"A log of wood is brought into the midst of the room; this is Dun (the cart-horse), and a cry is raised that he is stuck in the mire. Two of the company advance, either with or without ropes, to draw him out. After repeated attempts, they find themselves unable to do it, and call for more assistance. The game continues till all the company take part in it, when Dun is extricated. Much merriment is occasioned from the awkward efforts of the rustics to lift the log, and from sundry arch contrivances
to let the ends of it fall on one another's toes. Thus, in "Romeo and Juliet" (i. 4), Mercutio says,—
Beaumont and Fletcher, also, in the "Woman Hater" (iv. 3), allude to this game,—
Fast and Loose.—This was a cheating game, much practised in Shakespeare's day, whereby gipsies and other vagrants beguiled the common people of their money; and hence was very often to be seen at fairs. Its other name was "pricking at the belt or girdle"; and it is thus described by Sir J. Hawkins,—"A leathern belt was made up into a number of intricate folds, and placed edgewise upon a table. One of the folds was made to resemble the middle of the girdle, so that whoever could thrust a skewer into it would think he held it fast to the table; whereas, when he has so done, the person with whom he plays may take hold of both ends, and draw it away." In "Antony and Cleopatra" (iv. 12), the former says,—
The drift of this game seems to have been to encourage wagers whether the belt was fast or loose, which the juggler could easily make it at his option. It is constantly alluded to by old writers, and is thus described in Drayton's "Moon-calf,"
Fencing.—In years gone by, there were three degrees in fencing, a master's, a provost's, and a scholar's. 1 To each of these a prize was played with various weapons in some open place or square. In "Titus Andronicus" (i. 1), this practice is alluded to by Saturninus:—
[paragraph continues] In the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (i. 1), Slender says, "I bruised my shin th’ other day with playing at sword and dagger with a master of fence," i.e., with one who had taken his master's degree in the science.
Amongst the numerous allusions to fencing quoted by Shakespeare may be mentioned the following:—"Venue or veney" was a fencing term, meaning an attack or hit. It is used in the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (i. 1), by Slender, who relates how he bruised his shin "with playing at sword and dagger with a master of fence; three veneys for a dish of stewed prunes." It is used metaphorically in "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 1), for a brisk attack, by Armado:—"A sweet touch, a quick venue of wit! snip, snap, quick and home!" 1 The Italian term "Stoccado" or "Stoccata," abbreviated also into "Stock," seems to have had a similar signification. In "Romeo and Juliet" (iii. 1), Mercutio drawing his sword says
In the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (ii. 1), it is used by Shallow:—"In these times you stand on distance, your passes, stoccadoes, and I know not what." Again, "Montant," an abbreviation of Montanto, denoted an upright blow or thrust, and occurs also in the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (ii. 3), where the host tells Caius that she with the others has come; "to see thee pass thy ponto, thy stock, thy reverse, thy distance, thy montant." Hence in "Much Ado about Nothing" (i. 1), Beatrice jocularly calls Benedick "Signior Mountanto," meaning to imply that he was a great fencer. Of the other old fencing terms quoted in the passage above, it appears that "passado" implied a pass or motion forwards. It occurs in "Romeo and Juliet" (ii. 4), where Mercutio speaks of the "immortal passado! the punto reverso!" Again in "Love's Labour's Lost" (i. 2), Armado says of Cupid that
The "punto reverso" was a backhanded thrust or stroke, and the term "distance" was the space between the antagonists.
Shakespeare has also alluded to other fencing terms, such as the "foin," a thrust, which is used by the host in the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (iii. 2), and in "Much Ado about Nothing" (v. 1), where Antonio says in his heated conversation with Leonato:—
The term "traverse" denoted a posture of opposition, and is used by the host in the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (ii. 3) A "bout," too, is another fencing term to which the king refers in "Hamlet" (iv. 7)
Filliping the Toad—This is a common and cruel diversion of boys. They lay a board two or three feet long, at right angles over a transverse piece two or three inches thick, then placing the toad at one end of the board, the other end is struck by a bat or large stick, which throws the poor toad forty or fifty feet perpendicularly from the earth; and the fall generally kills it. In "2 Henry IV." (i. 2), Falstaff says:—
Flap-dragon.—This pastime, popularly called flap-dragon 2 was much in use in days gone by. A small combustible body was set on fire, and put afloat in a glass of liquor. The courage of the toper was tried in the attempt to toss off the glass in such a manner as to prevent the flap-dragon doing mischief—raisins in hot brandy being the usual flap-dragons. Shakespeare several times mentions this custom, as in "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 1) where Costard says, "Thou art easier swallowed than a flap-dragon." And in "2 Henry IV." (ii. 4),
he makes Falstaff say, "And drinks off candles’ ends for flap-dragons." 1
It appears that formerly gallants used to vie with each other in drinking off flap-dragons to the health of their mistresses—which were sometimes even candles' ends, swimming in brandy or other strong spirits, whence, when on fire, they were snatched by the mouth and swallowed; 2 an allusion to which occurs in the passage above. As candles’ ends made the most formidable flap-dragon, the greatest merit was ascribed to the heroism of swallowing them. Ben Jonson, in "The Masque of the Moon" (1838, p. 616, ed. Gifford), says, "But none that will hang themselves for love, or eat candles ends &c., as the sublunary lovers do."
Football.—An allusion to this once highly popular game occurs in "Comedy of Errors" (ii. 1). Dromio of Ephesus asks—
In "King Lear" (i. 4), Kent calls Oswald "a base football player."
According to Strutt, 3 it does not appear among the popular exercises before the reign of Edward III.; and then, in 1349, it was prohibited by a public edict because it impeded the progress of archery. The danger, however, attending this pastime occasioned James I. to say, "From this Court I debarre all rough and violent exercises, as the football, meeter for laming than making able the users thereof."
Occasionally the rustic boys made use of a blown bladder, without the covering of leather, by way of a football, putting beans and horse beans inside, which made a rattling noise as it was kicked about. Barclay, in his "Ship of Fools" (1508) thus graphically describes it—
Shrovetide was the great season for football matches; 1 and at a comparatively recent period it was played in Derby, Nottingham, Kingston-upon-Thames, etc.
Gleek.—According to Drake, 2 this game is alluded to twice by Shakespeare—in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (iii. 1)—
And in "Romeo and Juliet" (iv. 5)—
Douce, however, considers that the word gleek was simply used to express a stronger sort of joke, a scoffing; and that the phrase "to give the gleek" merely denoted to pass a jest upon, or to make a person appear ridiculous.
Handy Dandy.—A very old game among children. A child hides something in his hand, and makes his playfellow guess in which hand it is. If the latter guess rightly, he wins the article, if wrongly, he loses an equivalent. 3 Sometimes, says Mr Halliwell-Phillipps, "the game is played by a sort of sleight of hand, changing the article rapidly from one hand into the other, so that the looker on is often deceived, and induced to name the hand into which it is apparently thrown." This is what Shakespeare alludes to by changing places in "King Lear" (iv. 6), "See how yond justice rails upon yond simple thief. Hark, in thine ear: change places; and handy-dandy, which is the justice, which is the thief?" 4
Hide fox and all after.—A children's game, considered by
many to be identical with hide-and-seek. It is mentioned by Hamlet (iv. 2). Some commentators think that the term "kid-fox" in "Much Ado about Nothing" (ii. 3), may have been a technical term in the game of "hide-fox." Some editions have printed it "hid-fox." Claudio says—
Hoodman-blind.—The childish sport now called blind-man's buff was known by various names, such as hood-wink, blind-hob, etc. It was termed "hoodman-blind," because the players formerly were blinded with their hoods, 1 and under this designation it is mentioned by Hamlet (iii. 4)—
In Scotland this game was called "belly-blind;" and Gay, in his "Shepherd's Week" (i. 96), says concerning it
The term "hoodman" occurs in "All's Well that Ends Well" (iv. 3), the first lord says, "Hoodman comes!" and no doubt there is an allusion to the game in the same play (iii. 6), "We will bind and hoodwink him;" and in "Macbeth" (iv. 3) Macduff says, "The time you may so hoodwink." There may also have been a reference to falconry—the hawks being hooded in the intervals of sport. Thus, in Latham's "Falconry" (1615), "to hood" is the term used for the blinding, "to unhood" for the unblinding.
Horse Racing.—That this diversion was in Shakespeare's day occasionally practised in the spirit of the modern turf is evident from "Cymbeline" (iii. 2)—
Burton, 1 too, who wrote at the close of the Shakespearian era, mentions the ruinous consequences of this recreation:—"Horse races are desports of great men, and good in themselves, though many gentlemen by such means gallop quite out of their fortunes."
Leap-frog.—One boy stoops down with his hands upon his knees and others leap over him, every one of them running forward and stooping in his turn. It is mentioned by Shakespeare in "Henry V." (v. 2), where he makes the king say, "If I could win a lady at leap-frog, or by vaulting into my saddle with my armour on my back, I should quickly leap into a wife." Ben Jonson, in his comedy of "Bartholomew Fair," speaks of "a leappe frogge chance note."
Laugh-and-lie-down (more properly laugh-and-lay-down), was a game at cards, to which there is an allusion in the "Two Noble Kinsmen" (ii. 1)—
Loggat.—The game so called resembles bowls, but with notable differences. 2 First, it is played, not on a green, but on a floor strewed with ashes. The jack is a wheel of lignum vitæ, or other hard wood, 9 inches in diameter, and 3 or 4 inches thick. The loggat, made of apple wood, is a truncated cone, 26 or 27 inches in length, tapering from a girth of 82 to 9 inches at one end to 32 or 4 inches at the other. Each player has three loggats, which he throws, holding lightly the thin end. The object is to lie as near the jack as possible. Hamlet speaks of this game (v. 1), "Did these bones cost no more the breeding, but to play at loggats with ’em?" comparing perhaps the skull to the jack at which the bones were thrown. In Ben Jonson's "Tale of a Tub" (iv. 5) we read—
Sir Thomas Hanmer makes the game the same as ninepins, or skittles. He says:—"It is one of the unlawful games
enumerated in the Thirty-third statute of Henry VIII., 1 it is the same which is now called kittle-pins, in which the boys often make use of bones instead of wooden pins, throwing at them with another bone instead of bowling."
Marbles.—It has been suggested that there is an allusion to this pastime in "Measure for Measure" (i. 3)—
—dribbling being a term used in the game of marbles, for shooting slowly along the ground, in contradistinction to plumping; which is elevating the hand so that the marble does not touch the ground till it reaches the object of its aim. 2 According to others, a dribbler was a term in archery expressive of contempt. 3
Muss.—This was a phrase for a scramble, when any small objects were thrown down, to be taken by those who could seize them. In "Antony and Cleopatra" (iii. 13), the former says—
The word is used by Dryden in the Prologue to the "Widow Ranter"—
Nine-Men's-Morris.—This rustic game, which is still extant in some parts of England, was sometimes called "the nine men's merrils," from merelles, or mereaux, an ancient French word for the jettons or counters with which it was played. 4 The other term morris is probably a corruption suggested by the sort of dance, which in the progress of the game the counters performed. Some consider 5 that it was
identical with the game known as "Nine-holes," 1 mentioned by Herrick in his "Hesperides"—
Cotgrave speaks of "Le jeu des merelles," the boyish game called merills, or "five pennie morris," played here most commonly with stones, but in France with pawns or men made of purpose, and termed merelles. It was also called "Peg Morris," as is evidenced by Clare, who, in his "Rural Muse," speaking of the shepherd boy, says—
The game is fully described by James in the "Variorum Shakespeare" as follows:—"In that part of Warwickshire where Shakespeare was educated, and the neighbouring parts of Northamptonshire, the shepherds and other boys dig up the turf with their knives to represent a sort of imperfect chessboard. It consists of a square, sometimes only a foot diameter, sometimes three or four yards. Within this is another square, every side of which is parallel to the external square; and these squares are joined by lines drawn from each corner of both squares, and the middle of each line. One party or player has wooden pegs, the other stones, which they move in such a manner as to take up each other's men, as they are called, and the area of the inner square is called the pound, in which the men taken up are impounded. These figures are by the country people called nine men's morris, or merrils; and are so called because each party has nine men. These figures are always cut upon the green turf or leys, as they are called, or upon the grass at the end of ploughed lands, and in rainy seasons never fail to be choked up with mud." This verifies the allusion made by Shakespeare in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (ii. 1)—
[paragraph continues] This game was also transferred to a board, and continues a fire-side recreation of the agricultural labourer. It is often called by the name of "Mill," or "Shepherd's Mill." 1
Noddy.—Some doubt exists as to what game at cards was signified in this term. It has been suggested that cribbage is meant. Mr Singer thinks it bore some resemblance to the more recent game of "Beat the knave out of doors," which is mentioned together with "Ruff and new coat" in Heywood's play of "A Woman killed with kindness." The game is probably alluded to in "Troilus and Cressida" (i. 2), in the following dialogue:—
The term "Noddy" was also applied to a fool, because, says Minsheu, he nods when he should speak. In this sense it occurs in "Two Gentlemen of Verona" (i. 1):—
Novem Quinque.—A game of dice, so called from its principal throws being five and nine. It is alluded to in "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 2) by Biron who speaks of it simply as "Novem."
Parish-top.—Formerly a top was kept for public exercise in a parish—a custom to which the old writers often refer. Thus in "Twelfth Night" (i. 3), Sir Toby Belch says: "He's a coward and a coystrill that will not drink to my niece till his brains turn o’ the toe like a parish-top." On which passage Mr Steevens says:—"A large top was kept in every village, to be whipped in frosty weather, that the peasants might be kept warm by exercise and out of mischief while
they could not work." Beaumont and Fletcher, in "Thierry and Theodoret" (ii. 3), speak of the practice:—
And in their "Night Walker" (i. 3) they mention the "town-top." Evelyn, enumerating the uses of willow-wood speaks of "great town-topps." Mr Knight 1 remarks that the custom which existed in the time of Elizabeth, and probably long before, of a large top being provided for the amusement of the peasants in frosty weather, presents a curious illustration of the mitigating influences of social kindness in an age of penal legislation.
Primero.—In Shakespeare's time this was a very fashionable game at cards; and hence is frequently alluded to by him. It was known under the various designations of Primero, Prime, and Primavista; and, according to Strutt, 2 has been reckoned among the most ancient games of cards known to have been played in England. Shakespeare speaks of Henry VIII. (v. 1), playing at Primero with the Duke of Suffolk; and makes Falstaff exclaim in "Merry Wives of Windsor" (iv. 5), "I never prospered since I foreswore myself at primero." That it was the Court game is shewn in a very curious picture described by Mr Barrington in the "Archæologia" (viii. 132), which represents Lord Burleigh playing at this pastime with three other noblemen. Primero continued to be the most fashionable game throughout the reigns of Henry VIII., Edward VI., Mary, Elizabeth, and James I. In the Earl of Northumberland's letters about the Gunpowder-plot, we find that Josceline Percy was playing at Primero on Sunday, when his Uncle the Conspirator called on him at Essex House: and in the Sydney Papers, there is an account of a quarrel between Lord Southampton and one Ambrose Willoughby, on account of the former persisting to play at primero in the presence chamber, after the queen had retired to rest. The manner of playing was thus:— 3*
[paragraph continues] Each player had four cards dealt to him one by one; the seven was the highest card in point of number that he could avail himself of, which counted for twenty-one; the six counted for sixteen, the five for fifteen, and the ace for the same; but the two, the three, and the four, for their respective points only.
There may be further allusions to this game in "Taming of the Shrew" (ii. 1), where Tranio says—
—the phrase, "to face it with a card of ten," being derived, as some suggest, possibly from primero, wherein the standing boldly on a ten was often successful. "To face," meant, as it still does, to attack by impudence of face. In "1 Henry VI." (v. 3), Suffolk speaks of a "cooling card," which Nares considers is borrowed from primero, a card so decisive as to cool the courage of the adversary. Gifford objects to this explanation, and says a "cooling-card" is literally a bolus. There can be no doubt, however, that, metaphorically, the term was used to denote something which damped or overwhelmed the hopes of an expectant. Thus, in Fletcher's "Island Princess" (i. 3), Piniero says—
Push pin was a foolish sport, consisting in nothing more than pushing one pin across another. Biron in "Love's Labour's Lost" (iv. 3) speaks of Nestor playing "at pushpin with the boys."
Quintain.—This was a figure set up for tilters to run at, in mock resemblance of a tournament; and is alluded to in "As You Like It" (i. 2), by Orlando, who says—
It cannot be better or more minutely described than in the words of Mr Strutt 1—"Tilting or combating at the quintain is a military exercise of high antiquity, and antecedent, I
doubt not, to the jousts and tournaments. The quintain originally was nothing more than the trunk of a tree or post set up for the practice of the tyros in chivalry. Afterwards a staff or spear was fixed in the earth, and a shield being hung upon it, was the mark to strike at. The dexterity of the performer consisted in smiting the shield in such a manner as to break the ligatures and bear it to the ground. In process of time this diversion was improved, and instead of a staff and the shield, the resemblance of a human figure carved in wood was introduced. To render the appearance of this figure more formidable, it was generally made in the likeness of a Turk or a Saracen armed at all points, bearing a shield upon his left arm, and brandishing a club or a sabre with his right. The quintain thus fashioned was placed upon a pivot, and so contrived as to move round with facility. In running at this figure, it was necessary for the horseman to direct his lance with great adroitness, and make his stroke upon the forehead between the eyes or upon the nose; for if he struck wide of those parts, especially upon the shield, the quintain turned about with much velocity, and, in case he was not exceedingly careful, would give him a severe blow upon the back with the wooden sabre held in the right hand, which was considered as highly disgraceful to the performer, while it excited the laughter and ridicule of the spectators." 1 In Ben Jonson's "Underwoods" it is thus humorously mentioned—
Quoits.—This game derived its origin, according to Strutt, 2 from the ancient Discus, and with us, at the present day, it is a circular plate of iron perforated in the middle, not always of one size, but larger or smaller to suit the strength or conveniency of the several candidates. It is referred to in "2 Henry IV." (ii. 4), by Falstaff, who assigns as one of the reasons why Prince Henry loves Poins—"Because their legs are both of a bigness, and a’ plays at quoits well," &c.
Formerly in the country, the rustics not having the round perforated quoits to play with, used horse shoes; and in many places the quoit itself, to this day, is called a shoe.
Running for the ring.—This, according to Staunton, was the name of a sport; a ring having been one of the prizes formerly given in wrestling and running matches. Thus, in the "Taming of the Shrew" (i. 1), Hortensio says—"He that runs fastest gets the ring."
Running the figure of eight.—Steevens says that this game is alluded to by Shakespeare in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (ii. 1), where Titania speaks of the "quaint mazes in the wanton green." Mr Halliwell-Phillipps, in referring to this passage says—"Several mazes of the kind here alluded to are still preserved, having been kept up from time immemorial. On the top of Catherine Hill, Winchester, the usual play-place of the school was a very perplexed and winding path, running in a very small space over a great deal of ground, called a Miz-Maze. The senior boys obliged the juniors to tread it, to prevent the figure from being lost, and I believe it is still retained." 1
See-Saw.—Another name for this childish sport is that given by Falstaff, in "2 Henry IV." (ii. 4), where he calls it "riding the wild mare." Gay thus describes this well-known game—
Shove-Groat.—The object of this game was to shake or push pieces of money on a board to reach certain marks. It is alluded to in "2 Henry IV." (ii. 4), where Falstaff says—"Quoit him down, Bardolph, like a shove-groat shilling;" or, in other words, Bardolph was to quoit Pistol down stairs as quickly as the smooth shilling—the shove-groat—flies along the board. In a statute of 33 Henry VIII., shove-groat is called a new game, and was probably originally played with the silver-groat. The broad shilling of Edward VI. came afterwards to be used in this game, which was no doubt the same as shovel-board, with the exception that the latter was
on a larger scale. Master Slender, in "The Merry Wives of Windsor" (i. 1), had his pocket picked of "two Edward shovel-boards, that cost him two shilling and two pence a-piece." Mr Halliwell-Phillipps, in describing the game in his "Archaic Dictionary," says, that "a shilling or other smooth coin was placed on the extreme edge of the shovel-board, and propelled towards a mark by a smart stroke with the palm of the hand. It is mentioned under various names, according to the coin employed, as shove-groat, 1 &c. The game of shove-halfpenny is mentioned in the "Times" of April 25, 1845, as then played by the lower orders. According to Strutt it "was analogous to the modern pastime called Justice Jervis, or Jarvis, which is confined to common pot-houses."
Snow-Balls.—These are alluded to in "Pericles" (iv. 6), and in the "Merry Wives of Windsor" (iii. 5).
Span-Counter.—In this boyish game one throws a counter, or piece of money, which the other wins, if he can throw another so as to hit it, or lie within a span of it. In "2 Henry VI." (iv. 2), Cade says—"Tell the king from me, that, for his father's sake, Henry V., in whose time boys went to span-counter for French crowns, I am content he shall reign." It is called in France "tapper;" and in Swift's time was played with farthings, as he calls it "span-farthing." 2
Stool-Ball.—This game, alluded to in the "Two Noble Kinsmen" (v. 2), was formerly popular among young women; and occasionally was played by persons of both sexes indiscriminately, as the following lines, from a song written by Durfey for his play of "Don Quixote," acted at Dorset Gardens, in 1694, show 3—
[paragraph continues] Strutt informs us that this game, as played in the north, "consists in simply setting a stool upon the ground, and one of the players takes his place before it, while his antagonist, standing at a distance, tosses a ball with the intention of striking the stool; and this is the business of the former to prevent by beating it away with the hand, reckoning one to the game for every stroke of the ball; if, on the contrary, it should be missed by the hand and touch the stool, the players change places. The conqueror is he who strikes the ball most times before it touches the stool."
Tennis.—According to a story told by the old annalists, one of the most interesting historical events in connection with this game happened when Henry V. was meditating war against France. "The Dolphin," says Hall in his "Chronicle," "thynkyng King Henry to be given still to such plaies and lyght folies as he exercised and used before the tyme that he was exalted to the Croune, sent to hym a tunne of tennis balles to plaie with, as who saied that he had better skill of tennis than of warre." On the foundation of this incident, as told by Holingshed, Shakespeare has constructed his fine scene of the French Ambassador's Audience in "King Henry V." (i. 2). As soon as the first Ambassador has given the Dauphin's message and insulting gift, the English King speaks thus:—
In "Hamlet" (ii. 1), Polonius speaks of this pastime, and alludes to "falling out at tennis." In the sixteenth century tennis-courts were common in England, and the establishment of such places was countenanced by the example of royalty. It is evident that Henry VII. was a tennis-player. In a MS. register of his expenditures, made in the thirteenth year of his reign, this entry occurs:—"Item, for the king's
loss at tennis, twelvepence; for the loss of balls, threepence." Stowe, in his "Survey of London," tells us that among the additions that King Henry VIII. made to Whitehall, were "divers fair tennis courts, bowling-allies and a cock-pit." Charles II. frequently diverted himself with playing at tennis, and had a particular kind of dress made for that purpose. Pericles, when he is shipwrecked and cast upon the coast of Pentapolis, addresses himself and the three fishermen whom he chances to meet thus (ii. 1):—
In "Much ado about Nothing" (iii. 2), Claudio referring to Benedick says "that the old ornament of his cheek hath already stuffed tennis-balls;" 1 and in "King Henry V." (iii. 7), the Dauphin says his horse "bounds from the earth as if his entrails were hairs." Again, "Bandy" was originally a term at tennis, to which Juliet refers in "Romeo and Juliet" (ii. 5), when speaking of her Nurse:—
Also, King Lear (i. 4), says to Oswald, "Do you bandy looks with me, you rascal?"
Tick-Tack.—This was a sort of back gammon, and is alluded to by Lucio in "Measure for Measure" (i. 2) who, referring to Claudio's unpleasant predicament, says "I would be sorry should be thus foolishly lost at a game of tick-tack." In Weaver's "Lusty Juventus," Hipocrisye, seeing Lusty Juventus kiss Abhominable Lyuing, says:—
[paragraph continues] "Jouer au tric-trac" is used, too, in France in a wanton sense.
Trap-trip.—This was probably a game at cards, played with dice as well as with cards, the success in which chiefly depended upon the throwing of treys. Thus in a satire called "Machivell's Dog" (1617):—
In "Twelfth Night" (ii. 5), Sir Toby Belch asks, "Shall I play my freedom at tray-trip, and become thy bond-slave?" It may be remembered, too, that in "The Scornful Lady" of Beaumont and Fletcher (ii. 1), the Chaplain complains that the Butler had broken his head, and being asked the reason, says for—
Some are of opinion that it resembled the game of hopscotch, or Scotch-hop; but this, says Nares, 1 "seems to rest merely upon unauthorised conjecture."
Troll-my-dame.—The game of Troll-madam, still familiar as Bagatelle, was borrowed from the French (Trou-madame). One of its names was Pigeon-holes, because played on a board, at one end of which were a number of arches, like pigeon-holes, into which small balls had to be bowled. In "Winter's Tale" (iv. 2), it is mentioned by Autolycus who, in answer to the Clown, says that the manner of fellow that robbed him was one that he had "known to go about with troll-my-dames." Cotgrave declares it as "the game called Trunkes or the Hole."
Trump.—This was probably the triumfo of the Italians, and the triomphe of the French—being perhaps of equal antiquity in England with primero. At the latter end of the sixteenth century, it was very common among the inferior classes. There is, no doubt, a particular allusion to this game in "Antony and Cleopatra" (iv. 14), where Antony says:—
The poet meant to say, that Cleopatra, by collusion, played the great game they were engaged in falsely, so as to sacrifice Antony's fame to that of his enemy. There is an equivoque between trump and triumph. The game in question bore a very strong resemblance to our modern whist—the only points of dissimilarity being that more or less than four persons might play at trump; that all the cards were not dealt out; and that the dealer had the privilege of discarding some, and taking others in from the stock. In Eliot's "Fruits for the French," 1593, it is called "a very common ale-house game in England."
Wrestling.—Of the many allusions that are given by Shakespeare to this pastime, we may quote the phrase "to catch on the hip," made use of by Shylock in the "Merchant of Venice" (i. 3), who, speaking of Antonio, says,—
—the meaning being, "to have at an entire advantage." 1 The expression occurs again in "Othello" (ii. 1), where Iago says—
Nares, 2 however, considers the phrase was derived from hunting; because, "when the animal pursued is seized upon the hip, it is finally disabled from flight."
In "As You Like It" (ii. 3), where Adam speaks of the "bonny priser of the humorous duke," Singer considers that a priser was the phrase for a wrestler, a prise being a term in that sport for a grappling or hold taken."
370:1 See Drake's "Shakspeare and His Times," ii. pp. 178–181.
370:2 Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," 1870, ii. p. 290.
371:1 "Glossary," p. 84.
371:2 "Glossary," p. 210.
372:1 From Gifford's Note on Massinger's Works, 1813, i. p. 204.
372:2 See Jamieson's "Scottish Dictionary," 2899, i. p. 122.
372:3 "Glossary," i. p. 57.
373:1 See Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 58.
373:2 "Sports and Pastimes," 1876, p. 243.
374:1 See Harting's "Ornithology of Shakespeare," p. 156; Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes," 1876, p. 98. A simple mode of bat-fowling, by means of a large clap-net and a lantern, and called bird-batting, is alluded to in Fielding's "Joseph Andrews" (bk. ii. chap. x.). Drake thinks that it is to a stratagem of this kind Shakespeare alludes when he paints Buckingham exclaiming ("Henry VIII." i. 1)—
375:1 Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes," 1876, p. 396.
375:2 A pip is a spot upon a card.
375:3 "Sports and Pastimes," 1876, p. 436.
376:1 Rub is still a term at the game, expressive of the movement of the balls. Cf. "King Lear," (ii. 2), "Love's Labour's Lost" (iv. 1), where Bozet speaking of the game, says;—"I fear too much rubbing."
376:2 Halliwell-Phillipps’ "Handbook Index to Shakespeare," p. 43.
377:1 Staunton's "Shakespeare," iii. p. 592.
377:2 See Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," ii. p. 409.
377:3 She means, "Do you intend to make a mockery of me among the Companions?"
378:1 "Illustrations of Shakspeare," p. 20.
378:2 Gifford's Note on Jonson's Works, ii. p. 3.
378:3 Note on Jonson's Works, vii. p. 283.
379:1 See Douce's "Illustrations of Shakspeare," p. 35.
380:1 See Nares’ "Glossary," ii. p, 919.
381:1 A three-man beetle is a heavy implement, with three handles, used in driving piles, etc., which required three men to lift it.
381:2 A correspondent of Notes and Queries (2 S. vii. p. 277) suggests as a derivation the German schnapps, spirit, and drache, dragon, and that it is equivalent to spirit-fire.
382:1 Cf. "Winter's Tale" (iii. 3), "But to make an end of the ship, to see how the sea flap-dragoned it."
382:2 See Nares’ "Glossary," i. p. 131.
382:3 "Sports and Pastimes," pp. 168, 169.
383:1 See "British Popular Customs," 1876, pp. 78, 83, 87, 401.
383:2 "Shakspeare and his Times," ii. 170. See Douce's "Illustrations of Shakspeare," pp. 118, 435.
383:3 Dyce's "Glossary," p. 199.
383:4 See Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," 1849, ii. p. 420.
384:1 See Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes," pp. 499, 500; Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," 1849, 1i. PP. 397, 398.
385:1 "Anatomy of Melancholy;" Drake's "Shakspeare and His Times," 298.
385:2 Clark and Wright's Notes to "Hamlet." 1876, pp. 212, 213.
386:1 See Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes," p. 365; Nares’ "Glossary," ii. p. 522.
386:2 Baker's "Northamptonshire Glossary," 1854, i. p. 198.
386:3 See Dyce's "Glossary," p. 334.
386:4 Douce's "Illustrations of Shakspeare," P. 144.
386:5 See Nares’ "Glossary," ii. p. 605.
387:1 See Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes," 1876, pp. 368, 369.
388:1 See Brand's "Pop. Antiq." 1849, ii. pp. 429, 432.
388:2 See Nares’ "Glossary," ii. p. 606.
389:1 "Pictorial Shakespeare," ii. p. 145.
389:2 "Sports and Pastimes."
389:3 Smith's "Festivals, Games, and Amusements," 1831, p. 320.
390:1 "Sports and Pastimes," I876, p. 182.
391:1 See Nares’ "Glossary," ii. p. 713.
391:2 "Sports and Pastimes," p. 141.
392:1 See Milner's "History of Winchester," ii. p. 155.
393:1 According to Douce, "Illustrations of Shakspeare" (1839, p. 280), it was known as "slide-groat," "slide-board," "slide-thrift," and "slip-thrift." See Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes," 1876, pp. 16, 394, 398. Nares’ "Glossary," ii. p. 791. Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," 1849, ii. p. 441.
393:2 See Strutt's "Sports and Pastimes," 1876, p. 491.
393:3 Quoted by Strutt, "Sports and Pastimes," p. 166.
395:1 In "Love's Labour's Lost" (v. 2), the Princess speaks of "a set of wit well play’d;" upon which Mr Singer (ii. 263) adds that "a set is a term at tennis for a game."
395:2 Quoted by Dyce's "Glossary," p. 449; see Brand's "Pop. Antiq.," 1849, ii, p. 445.
396:1 "Glossary," ii. p. 896.
397:1 Dyce's "Glossary," p. 208.
397:2 "Glossary," i. p. 421.