Untold lives blog

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22 December 2016

Charades – a Christmas game to make a long evening short

The game of Charades originated in France and became popular in England in the second half of the 19th century.  The Brothers Mayhew published a guide to the new game in 1850 - Acting Charades or Deeds not Words – A Christmas game to make a long evening short. Cards, blind man’s buff, and forfeits are said to have been dropped in favour of Charades: ‘On Christmas day, it has been looked forward to, and entered into with as much energy as the sainted plum-pudding itself’.

  Tilte page of Acting Charades or Deeds not Words
Acting Charades

Players form themselves into teams.
‘A word is then fixed upon by the corps dramatique; and “my first, my second, and my whole” is gone through as puzzlingly as possible in dumb show, each division, making a separate and entire act. At the conclusion of the drama, the guessing begins on the part of the audience. The great rule to be observed in acting charades, is—silence. Nothing more than an exclamation is allowed.’

Placards may be used to set the scene:
‘It would be utterly impossible for the audience to know that the drawing-room wall before them is meant to represent a “magnificent view on the Rhine,” or “the wood of Ardennes by moonlight,” unless some slight hint to that effect is dropped beforehand’.


Illustrations of suggested actions form Acting Charades or Deeds not Words

Gestures and facial expressions are very important.
‘The pressing of the left side of the waistcoat, …the tender look at the ceiling, and the gentle and elegant swinging of the body, have…always accompanied the declaration of a true devotion.’

‘It may be pictured to an almost maddening amount by the frequent stamping of the foot, and the shaking of the fist. Frowning, and grinding of teeth, should be accompanied by opening the eyes to their greatest possible size.’

‘The limbs must almost seem to have lost their power. The actor must sink into a chair, pass his hand through his hair, with his five fingers spread open like a bunch of carrots, or else, letting his arms fall down by his side, remain perfectly still…either gazing at his boots or the ceiling.’

‘Here there must be no violent gestures—everything must be soft and pleasant. The finger must be occasionally raised to the ear, and the performer's countenance wear a bright smile and a look of deep intensity, as if listening to the soft still voice within.’

‘The dignified waiving of the hand, and the scornful look, gradually descending from top to toe, are well known to all who have been mistaken for waiters at evening parties. The eyes should be partly closed, the nose, if possible, turned up, the lips curved, and the countenance gently raised to the ceiling.’

  Illustration showing a coal scuttle for helmet
Costumes can be created.
‘A sheet will do for a toga; in the knight, the coal scuttle for helmet, and the dish-cover for breast-plate, make capital armour.’

Here is a list of words for Charades provided by the Mayhews.

list of words for Charades
We hope many of our readers will insist that guests this festive season play Charades using the Mayhews’ words.  Good luck with blis-ter, corse-let, crack-nell, cap-tain, and cat-sup. May all your long evenings be short.

Happy Christmas!

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records


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