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LOOK AT IT THIS WAY: KIDS of the Tudor era didn’t have to contend with Shakespeare. Unless their parents brought them along as Globe Theatre groundlings. Indeed, the April 2023 BBC History Magazine contains Nicholas Orme’s fascinating article “Hot Cockles, Handball and Hide-and-Seek” describing how Tudor kids were entertained and entertained themselves. Here are tidbits gleaned from this article.

This and following images from BBC History, April 2023

Hot Cockles. The apparently timeless English “Hot Cockles” reminds me of a purely made-up game of my teens, “Moriarty, Are You There?” In “Hot Cockles,” Orme describes, “a player lay or knelt with his eyes covered, and tried to guess which player struck them on the back. This may have led to a chase, as it did when I played it in the 1940s.” 

“Moriarty” certainly degenerated into general mayhem.

A lithograph shows “Blind Man’s Buff” being played at Athelhampton House in Dorset. It sure reminds me of late-stage “Moriarty.” 

Base Games. “Running-and-chasing games,” Orme writes, “were commonly known as ‘base’ or ‘prisoner’s base.’ In Cymbeline, Shakespeare mentions ‘lads more like to run the country base’ than to fight in battle.” 

Orme cites a 1620s’ dialogue preceding a chase. Chased: Pe, pa, postola. How many miles to Beverley? Chaser: Eight, eight, and other eight. Chased: Think you I shall get thither tonight? Chased: Yes, if your horse be good and right.

“After these lines were recited,” Orme notes, “the chase began. The rhyme is interesting because it resembles one recorded in a sermon of the 13th century.”

In this woodcut, 16th-century toys include a hobbyhorse, windmill, and bubble blower. The classic cup-and-ball was another favorite. 

Boys and Dolls. “Dolls, known as ‘puppets’ or ‘babies,’ ” Orme says, “were also common…. There are many references to girls playing with dolls, and mentions of boys doing so, too—some dolls were male figures.” 

Orme cites a Latin dictionary from 1584: “Thy puppets bring with thee, if thou wilt play with me.” He notes, “This book was produced for use in a school classroom, which would have contained only boys.”

I wonder. Were they like G.I. Joe and Transformer action toys?

The Fun Police. “Authorities in Tudor England took no interest in the play of small children,” Orme says. “They did, however, try to control that of teenagers, for several reasons.”

Orme notes, “Because the nobility and gentry still led the nation’s armed forces [ha! they continue to], their sons were supposed to be trained to ride and be physically fit. Swordfighting, wrestling and swimming were recommended. Hunting was encouraged, too, to develop not only physical endurance but also strategic skills: a hunter had to anticipate the wiles of the deer or the fox.”  

And then too there were the rising influences of Puritanism, a faction disapproving of fun in general.

Remind you of anything today?

A Shakespeare Perspective on Teenage Boys. In  A Winter’s Tale, Act III, Scene 3, an Old Shepherd grumbles, “I would there were no age between sixteen and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting.” Teenage boys, he says, have “boiled brains.” 

Ouch; been there. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2023

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