Regency Era Charades ~ Test Your Riddle Solving Skills
Even if one has never played charades, the game of mime and acting skill is familiar. We can all envision a person standing silent before his/her fellow players as the mystery word or phrase is conveyed with dramatic performance. Not an easy game to be sure and the biggest challenge is to remain close-lipped. Speaking would make guessing a breeze, right? Don’t answer with a YES too fast!
Literary riddles were a common entertainment in England, France, and other European countries. Charades, as invented by the French somewhere in the early 18th century, fell into this category. As with all variations of word games—riddles, conundrums, enigmas, rebuses, forfeits—charades involved speaking aloud. Are you surprised?
Unlike modern charades, rather than cleverly acting out the word or short phrase answer, it was separated into syllables or portions which were described verbally and enigmatically. The challenge was not in assessing gestures and facial contortions, but in deciphering tricky language and comprehending vocabulary. Adding to the difficulty in constructing a perfect charade, the verse had to rhyme.
Word games were an important part of Jane Austen’s family life. The image below is a book on display at the Austen House Museum in Chawton. In a letter to Cassandra dated September 8, 1816, Jane Austen wrote:
Our day in Alton was very well pleasant-Venison quite right-Children well-behaved-& Mr. and Mrs. Digweed taking kindly to our Charades & other Games.
Games of all sorts were written into Austen’s novels. Charades featured prominently in Emma, including the following. Try to guess it before reading on for the answer.
“My first doth affliction denote,
Which my second is destin’d to feel
And my whole is the best antidote
That affliction to soften and heal.”
One point to remember in solving a charade is to look for the clues “my first – second – third” to indicate the sections, and “the whole” or “united” or other similar terms for the complete word. Additionally, when attempting charades (or any riddle games of the era) set your mind back 200 years. Words had different meanings, for instance, and the charades included frequent references to contemporary people, literature, places, and so on.
Charades as a parlor game were extremely popular during the Regency. Intelligent, witty players wrote their own charades, but they regularly appeared in magazines and in published books of compiled brain teasers. At the end of this post, I include links to five publications on Google Books.
Dramatic performances gradually crept into playing charades, the gestures augmenting the fun of the game and spoken verses, but acting was not a universal tactic for most of the 19th century. Not until well past the first decades of the 20th century would the silent version of charades supplant the verbal, and in time the original rules of play were forgotten.
In my novel Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future, Lizzy, Jane, and Mr. Bingley secretly plan a celebration for Mr. Darcy’s twenty-ninth birthday. Along with blindman’s bluff and twenty questions, the quartet plays charades. As I have written the character of Mr. Darcy, he possesses a hidden talent for drama. So hidden, in fact, that when he chooses to unleash his skill by added vocal intonations, facial expressions, and gestures to his charade, the others are astounded!
I’ll keep that enticing visual as an inducement to buy my novel, and for the same reason, I am not revealing Mr. Darcy’s cheeky charade amongst the eight Regency era samples in this post. Give them a go (answers in the spoiler at the end) and let me know how well you did. Good luck!
My first is in harvest rarely known,
Nor would it welcome be.
My next in country or in town,
Each miss delights to see.
And when drear winter’s dress is shown,
In joyous play my whole is thrown.
My first dispels the darksome gloom;
You love my next wherever you roam.
My whole with cheering ray from far,
Gives comfort to the wandering tar.
My first a blessing sent to earth,
Of plants and flowers to aid the birth.
My second surely was designed
To hurl destruction on mankind.
My whole a pledge from pardoned Heaven,
Of wrath appeased and crimes forgiven.
My first, all sabled over with gloom,
Shuns the effulgent light of day;
My second, formed on fashion’s loom,
Gives female dress a neat display;
And in the embraces of my whole I’m blest,
While through my first I seek oblivion’s rest.
A mischievous urchin may soon do my first,
If he meets with a teapot or ewer.
My second bring on us both hunger and thirst.
My whole thirst and hunger will cure.
My first’s a word comedians dread to hear;
My next gives charms to the revolving year.
My whole’s the joy of many a happy pair,
Yet ofttimes brings them misery and care.
My first is an animal’s coat;
Many trees in my next you may place.
My whole, to your grief, will denote
That time has made work with your face.
Hail! Glorious first, whose beams resplendent rise!
Thou, with my next, art welcome to the skies.
My hallowed whole calm consolation brings,
And relaxation from all earthly things.