Laugh and Lie Down is a 16th century card game alluded to in Shakespeare’s Othello. If you enjoy card games and especially card games from Shakespeare’s lifetime, then this is the post for you! I’m going to show you how to play this card game straight from the life of William Shakespeare.

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What you’ll need for Laugh and Lie Down:

  • A deck of playing card (any card deck is fine, but you might like this authentic 16th century card deck).
  • Coins, at least 12, 25 is better, and regular pennies are perfect (Shakespeare would have used British pence). You can also use this printable of coins
  • 5 players. You have to have 5 people. In our version my husband played twice, once for himself and once for Shakespeare (you’ll see him in the video)
  • We used David Partlett‘s website for information on the history of this game, so check out his page for more games!

How to Play Laugh and Lie Down:

  1. Give everyone coins to play with. 5 coins per person worked great for us)
  2. Deal the cards. You can assign a dealer, or cut the deck to choose the dealer. Lowest card deals, Aces are low.
  3. Dealer antes 3 pence to play, all other players contribute 2 pence (15 total pence in the pot at the start of the game)
  4. Deal 8 cards face down to each player.
  5. Turn remaining 12 cards up on the table in a disorganized fashion, just where all can reach/see them
  6. Starting to the left of the dealer, players use the cards in their hand to make pairs with what’s showing on the table.
  7. When you can’t make any more pairs, you have to lie down your cards (and the table laughs at you)
  8. Play resumes with the next player who can use the cards that were lain down in addition to the table cards.
  9. The game is over when only one person has cards left to play. That person wins!

Important Points about Laugh and Lie Down

On your turn you can make a set of two (a pair) or a set of 4 (called a mournival in the 16th century) but you can’t make a set of 3 (a prial in the 16th century). Note: We aren’t sure about this rule, and didn’t get clear instructions from our research. If you know more, please share with us in the comments!

If a player lays down a set of pairs and you’re holding the other set of two cards, you can play them as played cards for yourself at any point in the game without needing to play a card from the table set because there’s no other way to play them.

Counting Points (Known as “The Payoff”)

At the end, whoever was last gets 5 pence from the pot. Then you payout the coins to the players.

If you capture less than 8 cards, you pay one pence to the pot for every pair of cards you won short of the original 8 you were dealt. (For example, in our game Shakespeare won two pairs, or 4 cards. That’s 2 pairs short of 8 cards, so he pays 2 pence at the end of the game).

If you have more than 8 cards in your “won” pile, you get PAID one pence for each pair above 8 that you have from the pot. Example: In this game, I won 8 pairs of cards, which was 16 cards. That’s 4 pairs over the original 8 I was dealt, so I win 4 pence from the pot.)

And that’s how you play Laugh and Lie Down! Let us know in the comments if you play this game and what you think about it.