Some twists on the Victorian parlor game of Shadows


Shadow images, such as the ones in the above picture, were a popular form of amusement in Victorian times. The set up is simple; all you need is a sheet, a back-light and the images are displayed on the sheet when the room is darkened and an object (or person’s hand) is placed between the back-light and the sheet.

A Victorian parlor game called ‘shadows’ can also be played using the above set up. The shadows parlor game is played by having some of your party guests on one side of the sheet and having the other guests ‘guess’ whose silhouette (shadow) is being displayed.  The teams are split; depending on the size of the party but teams of about 6 behind the sheet with the rest of the party ‘guessing’ is a good number. Each guest (that is behind the sheet casting a shadow) walks across the sheet in turn. The other guests then guess who has just walked across the sheet. To make the game more interesting (amusing) have each guest dress up with a hat or large costume that hides their basic shape. The guests, casting the shadows, can also do dance moves or other movements so as to put on a small ‘performance’ for the other guests.

This parlor shadows game is ideal for themed parties, for example, pirates, witches, wizards, princesses etc. If a particular theme is to be incorporated into the shadows game then the guests casting shadows simply put on the appropriate costumes. For Halloween a broomstick can also be used to create a “flying” witch (or wizard) silhouette. For pirates a sword or hook can be incorporated, and these objects only need to be made of cardboard so as to cast a “menacing” shadow without being harmful to the performers.

A shadow “charades” game is also an entertaining variation of the basic game. The person casting the shadow also ‘acts out’ an item or action to be guessed, for example “hanging out clothes on a washing line”, or more likely these days, “texting a friend”.  For the charades variation, more than one person could act out the skit (mime) for the others to guess. This variation is similar to “Shadows Theater” under which whole short plays or stories (for example Little Red Riding Hood) could be acted out and incorporated into a themed party if desired.

Whether you plan to incorporate a simple ‘guess who” shadows game, or the more elaborate charades and theater variations, setting up a simple sheet with a back-light in a dark room will surely entertain and delight children of today as it did over 100 years ago in Victorian times.

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