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It’s Shakespeare’s Birthday this week! Happy Birthday Shakespeare! To celebrate, we’re going to play some card games! From Noddy and Maw to Laugh and Lie Down, card games were popular for Shakespeare’s lifetime, with records from the court of King James and Elizabeth I outlining games played, losses incurred, and even insults traded between dignitaries all over the playing of card games. Shakespeare himself mentions a few of these games in his plays by name including Noddy, Primrose, and Laugh and Lie Down. When it comes to early modern card games, no one knows more about the games, their history, and how to play them than internationally renowned game expert David . If you are an Experience Shakespeare patron on Patreon or followed me on YouTube where we have played some of these early modern games for ourselves, you will be familiar with David ’s name, having seen and heard me mention his work as we relied on his research to put together those activities. I am very honored and quite delighted to welcome David Parlett to the show today to share with us some of the history of card games, how they were played, and their place in society for the life of William Shakespeare.  

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David Parlett spent years as a teacher before becoming a freelance writer for Games & Puzzles magazine 1974-1980. He is the author of the book A History of Card Games, as well as the Oxford Guide to Card Games, and the Oxford History of Board Games, among several others. David writes and run his website where he details the history and mechanics of several card games and board games from Shakespeare’s lifetime as well as for centuries before and after the bard.

Watch the video version of today’s episode inside That Shakespeare Film Library on Patreon.

I’ll be asking David Parlett about:

  • We have multiple records of Kings and Queens playing at, losing at, and causing issues over the playing of cards, but were playing cards a luxury for the elite in England or would the games have been played in regular everyday households as well?  
  • Let’s look at some specific card game references that come up in Shakespeare’s plays. In his play, Two Noble Kinsmen, in Act 2 Scene 1, Emilia is talking with a woman. Emilia says “I am wondrous merry-hearted. I could laugh now.” and the woman replies “I could lie down, I am sure.” I have read this is a reference to the game, Laugh and Lie Down. David, can you tell us more about the game Laugh and Lie Down and what we should know about the history of the game when we see it here in this play?  
  • On his website, David outlines the game of Noddy, referencing a 1610 publication by J. Day as saying “By plaieing to much at primeroe and noddy he lost / Time and his monie to[o].” Shakespeare references Noddy, the game, specifically in his play Two Gentlemen of Verona, when Proteus says “that set together is Noddy.” David, what records do we have about this game and do we know how it was intended to be played? 
  • …and more!
  • Michael Dummet, The Game of Tarot, 📚 very highly regarded philosopher at Oxford, he wrote a book on tarot cards. History of Tarot cards, it is a vast book and before he gets round to the tarot cards, he spends several chapters on the history of card games. The Game of Tarot (1981)  This book is currently out of print. It is a collector’s item that you can find it for over $500 USD on Amazon, but I recommend the library or checking out sites like Thrift Books or Abe Books.
  • Thierry Depaulis, History of Bridge, written in French. Only available at Amazon Canada
  • Join the International Playing Cards Society—that publishes a journal that freqwuenrtly includes descriptiosn of card games.  Very often local and regional card games and Europe but these in themselves have a long history and no one would write about one of these without saying where they came from or how they started, so that’s a good resource as well.  

David Parlett is the authoritative expert on the history of card games having written over 28 titles on cards, earning an honorary doctorate for his work by the University of Suffolk in 2017. You can see some of his published titles here.

What’s inside the details for this episode:

  • Quotes from Shakespeare’s plays about cards and games
  • 16th century painting of people playing cards
  • 1567 archival image of the actual playing cards
  • 17th century painting of peasants playing cards
  • Links to The official rules of Maw, as outlined inside The Groom Porter’s Laws from the 16th century
  • Information from the Lost Plays Database providing links to card games and Thomas Dekker’s Match Me in London
  • Links to Robert Chambers in his The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities in …, Volume 2 explanation of how to play card games
  • Illustrated diagram of the evolution of the artwork on cards from the 16th century to today
  • Diagram showing where the Queen of France has an emblem on the 16thC playing cards
  • 1610 publication for “how to play mawe”
  • The Court and Character of King James by Sir Anthony Weldon, 1650, showing accounts of King James playing cards
  • Links to A Manual for the Collector and Amateur of Old English Plays by William Carew Hazlitt, talking about the card game, Maw
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I love card games, and particularly the ones played in Shakespeare’s lifetime. We cover several card games on YouTube and inside our Patron’s area called “Experience Shakespeare” we have complete activity kits that include a list of instructions, supply lists, and bonus history guides about several cards games including Noddy, Maw, and Laugh and Lie Down. Find links to the YouTube episodes below and if you want to play along with us, join Experience Shakespeare on Patreon.

How to Play Maw (or Spoil Five)

How to Play One and Thirty (Elizabethan Card Game)

How to Play Laugh and Lie Down (16th C Card Game)

Did Shakespeare Play Cards?

How to Play Noddy

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That’s it for this week! Thank you for listening. I’m Cassidy Cash, and I hope you learn something new about the bard. I’ll see you next time!