Book Review: The Compleat Gamester
Have you ever wondered what kinds of games people played during the Renaissance? The Compleat Gamester is a guide to just that. It was written in 1674 as a handbook for people of the time to learn how to play games that were currently popular. And it is still widely available today. It is a great way to learn about what kinds of games people played during the Middle Ages. And it is also lends insight into understanding how that period of time still has a tremendous influence on today's world. Many of the games in the book are still played today.
The Compleat Gamester is a book about games and gaming that was written by Charles Cotton in 1674 which is right in the middle of the European Renaissance. It is also a book that has had quite a long life having been re-printed many times. It is still very readily available today and the last printing of it was in 1970. Many libraries carry copies of it and plenty of copies can be found at any online book store.
The book gives us a wonderful insight into the leisure activities of the period and these games are divided into several general categories including card games, table games, board games, and outdoor games. The card games include Whisk and Cribbage. The board games include Chess and Backgammon. The table games section includes billiards and the outdoor games, which to me are the most interesting, include archery, bowling, horsemanship and cock fighting.
There are also lots of games that seem to be lost to the passage of time. These games include card games named L'Ombre, Queen Nazareen Lanterloo, and Beast. And they include games without cards such as Ketch-Dolt and Sice-Ace.
Another interesting insight into the Middle Ages that we can derive from this book is the sensitivity to the class and caste system. The author often makes comments and observations about the games and what kinds of people play them. This is first revealed to us in the full title of the book which is "The Compleat Gamester or, Instructions how to Play at all manner of usual and Genteel games". This sensitivity is most prevalent in how he describes the scene of bowling as a place for rooks where three things are thrown more than the balls. These are time, money, and curses. He characterizes bowling as being a healthy sport yet something that is more for the rough and tumble commoner crowd. And it's funny how that stigma of bowling being a common persons sport still remains with us today. It makes one wonder if he is the guy that started that whole stigma about bowling.
About the book
Having been written over three hundred years ago the language of the book can sometimes be a bit awkward but it is beautifully done and it is loaded with great illustrations. The very first edition of this book was published in 1674 by Charles Cotton and it is the second most common alternate usage of the word Complete. The most common, and most famous, use of this alternate spelling is of course for the Compleat Angler which was written by a friend of Charles Cotton's father. Charles, his father, and the author of the Compleat Angler used to go fishing a lot when Charles was a boy. So it is easy to see where the inspiration for the book and its peculiar title came from.
If you are interested in Medieval Period things and games in general, you might want to give this book a look. Who knows, after reading some of the lost games you just might want to give them a try and start a whole new revival.
Check it out at Amazon.com