Category Archives: Entertainment

Custom Entertainment Games London Underworld Vice

We play with dice

Evidence of gambling in London goes all the way back to the Romans, with dice carved from bone and jet having been excavated by archaeologists. Medieval London also had its fair share of gaming activity; Hazard was played in taverns and brothels, along with another dice game known as Tables. Playing cards were introduced into London in the 15th century; John Stowe remarks on their popularity during feast days. Playing cards were also kept in most taverns, often with the name of the tavern printed on them. In fact playing cards became such big business that over four and a half million packs were sold in the mid-17th century. Here is a contemporary description of some popular tavern games:

We play with Dice either they that throw the most take up all; or we throw them through a casting-Box upon a board marked with figures, and this is the Dice-players game at casting Lots.  Men play by luck and skill at Tables and at Cards.  We play at Chesse on a Chesse-board where only art beareth the sway.  The most ingenious Game is the game at Chefs, wherein as it were two Armies fight together in Battell’ (Early Modern Risk!).

Lincoln’s Inn was had a particular reputation for gambling in London; and even children played each other for oranges and coins. One game known as Wheel of Fortune was especially popular. However, gambling was frowned on by many and seen as a vice fit for the devil. This comment is fairly typical:

O how happy were it for your posterity, if all Dicing-houses, and allies of gaming were suppressed in, and about this Citty… The delights of these Tabling-houses are so pleasant and tempting, that a man when he hath lost all his money, will be most willing, even in the place of his undoing, to stand money-lesse, and be and Idle looker on of other mens unthriftinesse.

By the early 18th Century there were over forty gaming houses in London; gambling had evolved from a tavern sport to a recognised industry. These early casinos had a fancy lamp outside the entrance which made them immediately recognisable to passers-by. Gaming was eventually outlawed in London, but this merely drove it underground, and despite regular raids by the authorities, the gaming houses prospered. At Almanacks, a famous casino in Pall Mall, the players turned their coats inside out for luck and wore leather wristbands to protect their lacy cuffs.Outside the door of White’s gaming house, when one player dropped dead, members of the club ‘immediately made bets whether he was dead or only in a fit.’

Sources: Peter Ackroyd, London The Biography; John Stowe, Survey of London (1598)

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Entertainment Music

The Dancing Master

A widely popular book published repeatedly during the 17th Century was John Playford’s wonderfully charming The Dancing Master, a collection of dances set to tunes which people could learn at home. In its introduction the author states:

The Art of Dancing is a commendable and rare Quality fit for young Gentlemen, if opportunely and civilly used. And Plato, that Famous Philosopher thought it meet that young ingenious Children be Taught to Dance’. And he cites ‘The Gentlemen of the Inns of Court, whose sweet and airy Activity has crowned their Grand Solemnities with admiration to all Spectators.

Dances in Playford’s book include – Step Stately, What You Please, Thomas You Cannot, Huddle-Duddle, Put On Thy Smock on Monday, Oranges and Limons, Gossips Frolick, and the wonderfully entitled Jog on my Honey.

Below are some images from the book, which give instructions on how to perform each dance.








© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved
Booze Entertainment Men Music Women

The delights of the bottle

These rather charming snippets, on the delights of women and booze, come from a song entitled The Delights of the bottle, or, The town-galants declaration for women and wine being a description of a town-bred gentleman with all his intrigues, pleasure, company, humor, and conversation … : to a most admirable new tune, every where much in request (1675)

The Delights of the Bottle, & charms of good wine,
To the pow’r & the pleasures of love must resign,
Though the night in the joys of good drinking be past,
The debauches but still the next morning doth last;
But loves great debauch is more lasting and strong,
For that often lasts a man all his life long.
Love, and Wine, are the bonds that fasten us all,
The world, but for this, to confusion would fall;
Were it not for the pleasures of love and good wine,
Man-kind, for each trifle, their lives would resign;
they’d not value dull life, or wou’d live without thinking
Nor Kings rule the world, but for love & good drinking.

For the Drabe, and the Dull, by sobriety curs’d,

That would ne’r take a glass, but for quenching his thirst
He that once in a Month takes a touch of the Smock ,
And poor Nature up-holds with a bit and a knock.
What-ever the ignorant Rabble may say,
Tho’ he breaths till a hundred, he lives but a day.
Let the Puritan preach against wenches, and drink,
He may prate out his Lungs, but I know what I think;
When the Lecture is done, he’ll a Sister entice;
Not a Letcher in Town can Out-do him at Vice;
Tho’ beneath his Religion, he stifles his joys,
And becomes a Debauch without clamour or noise.
‘Twixt the Vices of both, little difference lyes,
But that one is more open, the other precize:
Though he drinks like a chick, with his eye-balls lift up,
Yet I’ll warrant thee boy, he shall take off his cup:
His Religious debauch, does the gallants out-match,
For a Saint is his Wench, and a Psalm is; his Catch.

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Actor Entertainment London Shakespeare Stage Theatre

This Wooden O



These snippets form a little potted history of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre.


The first purpose-built theatre in early modern London, the Theatre, was built in 1576 under the direction of James Burbage. It’s location, in Shoreditch, about a mile from the city, is telling, since it was constructed outside the jurisdiction of the city fathers, who made repeated efforts to close plays and persecute players. In their view, plays corrupted youth, attracted criminals, spread disease and promoted idleness. They regarded players as little better than wandering beggers. It was at the Theatre that Shakespeare first staged Romeo and Juliet in 1594. In 1597, the lease held by Shakespeare’s company on the Theatre ran out, and after legal wrangles with the landlord over the land on which it stood, the company relocated to Bankside and erected the Globe in 1598. The story goes that the company, determined to have the last word, secretly dismantled the Theatre, timber by timber, and rowed it across the Thames to the new site on Bankside.

By 1598, the Globe was not the first theatre operating in Southwark. Henslowe’s the Rose had been opened in 1587, and the Swan, famously described by Johannes de Witt (his sketch can be seen at the top right-hand corner of this blog) was staging plays in 1596.

The Globe was described at the time as ‘a house newly built with a garden attached… in the occupation of William Shakespeare and others.’ The public playhouses were often polygonal or round buildings, built on a timber frame, with thatched or tile roofing over the galleries. The yard, or standing area was reached via a series of entrances, and the seated galleries by a series of staircases. Plays were performed at two in the afternoon, announced by a trumpet from the theatre’s roof, which also sported a flag at high mast when a performance was taking place. Handbills detailing which plays were due to be staged were also printed and circulated.

Entry to the Globe’s yard, which was standing room only, cost a penny. For a more comfortable experience a visitor could pay an extra penny to sit in the galleries, and a further penny rented a cushion for the duration. Refreshments were available, including ale, apples, wine, pies, oranges, and, for threepence, a pipeful of tobacco.


The stage, or platform, extended out into the yard, effectively surrounding the players on three sides, making for an intimate theatrical experience. It was not uncommon for members of the public to sit on the stage itself, and the Lords’ Rooms, which flanked the stage, were the best seats in the house. Behind the stage was the tiring house, where the actors changed and waited between appearances, and above it an open balcony which extended the performance space. Over both stage and balcony was a canopied roof supported by pillars, protecting the players from the elements. Known as ‘the heavens’ this was brightly painted and often decorated with stars. The stage also had a trap door and mechanical devices for lowering props and players up and down.

Philip Henslower, proprietor of the Rose, made an inventory of his theatrical props in 1598. They included a tree of golden apples, the city of Rome, Hell’s mouth, a rainbow, lion and bear skins, coffins, tombs, and ‘a robe for to go invisible’. However, it was the costumes which were the most prized possessions. A black velvet cloak, with embroidered sleeves of silver and gold, was listed with a value of £20.10s 6d. This is roughly a third of what it cost Shakespeare to buy a house in Stratford. The costumes, donated by the aristocracy during the reign of James I, were as colourful as the theatres themselves, and colour was used to denote vocation; so a player assuming the role of a doctor would wear a scarlet robe, lawyers wore black, merchants wore blue, and friars would be dressed in gray gowns.

Sound effects would be simple but effective; cannons and bells were used, as well as trumpets. Thunder was simulated using a sheet of metal, and plays often called for mist, lightning, flaming torches, and in one case, fireworks. Blood occured frequently on the Globe’s stage; animal entrails were used for gory scenes, and a sponge soaked in sheep’s blood could be tucked beneath the armpit and squeezed at the right moment to produce the realistic effect of being stabbed to death.

Theatres on Bankside could accommodate up to 3,000 people per play. Audiences were comprised of virtually every sector of society, and only Puritans abstained for fear of corruption.

The Globe operated with great success from 1599 to 1613, when, during a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, a canon shot set fire to the thatched roof and the theatre burned to the ground. Plays by Shakespeare performed at the Globe included:  Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, The Merry Wives of Windsor, All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Coriolanus, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest.


Sources: Andrew Gurr; Frank Kermode

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved
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