A Game of Cards. Artist unknown. By permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Dice and card games were popular both in the common taverns and the Court; the favoured game of cards was Primero*.

Primero seems to have been related to modern poker, with only four cards dealt each player. Shakespeare's references to card games, however, are general rather than referring to specific games.

Lewis, the Dauphin in Shakespeare's King John, boasts that he has the upper hand in the coming conflict for the English crown:

Have I not here the best cards for the game
To win this easy match played for a crown?
(5.2.105-6)

Close

Images of Fortune and chance often use the term "hazard"--the name of a game of dice; before the battle of Shrewsbury, Hotspur initially questions the wisdom of the battle:

Were it good
To set the exact wealth of all our states
All at one cast? to set so rich a main [bet]
On the nice hazard of one doubtful hour?
(Henry IV, Part One, 4.1.45-48)

Games involving dice were also used by "coney-catchers" or con men to part gullible newcomers to the city from their money.

The climax of The Taming of the Shrew involves a wager, where Petruchio bets that his newly tamed wife will come when he requests. She does, and the other newly-wed wives do not -- at which point she delivers a notable speech on the desirability of a docile wife.

Footnotes

  1. Primero

    Primero seems to have been related to modern poker, with only four cards dealt each player. Shakespeare's references to card games, however, are general rather than referring to specific games.

    Lewis, the Dauphin in Shakespeare's King John, boasts that he has the upper hand in the coming conflict for the English crown:

    Have I not here the best cards for the game
    To win this easy match played for a crown?
    (5.2.105-6)