e.g. in the Merry Wives of Windsor, Act V, Scene 1:

Since I plucked geese, played truant, and whipped top, I knew not what it was to be beaten till lately.

I assume it's some form of game or diversion, but I can't seem to find out what. It's also used in Hudibras:

For as whipp'd tops, and bandy'd balls,

The learned hold, are animals

Any context or explanation for these quotations would be very much appreciated.

  • 1
    This is archaic? Okay, now I feel old. Granted I would have thought it an old-fashioned game as a child and knew it went back to at least Victorian times (learning later it went back further again), but I did still whip a top as a child. (Or tried to, it always just made it fall over for me). – Jon Hanna Jan 12 '15 at 4:08
  • @Jon Hannah - 3 years later. Have a look at my answer below. You can still buy these in 2018. Just Google 'whip and top toy' and then clcik on Shopping. – chasly - supports Monica Nov 25 '18 at 10:06

Seems to indicate that the toy top was spun by whipping it with a stick - much the same way that "rolling hoops" was played.

  • 3
    Either that, or a string was wrapped around the top and attached to a stick (as a whip is). Cracking the "whip" would release the top at quite a speed. – Andrew Leach Dec 1 '14 at 16:47
  • Here's a video. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 1 '14 at 20:20
  • @StoneyB - That's really cool - never saw it before. – Oldbag Dec 1 '14 at 20:24

Ah, presumably it means to play with a spinning top? Wouldn't have known these were popular in Shakespeare's time!


It's not even archaic. You can still buy these in some toy-shops, especially those frequented by a particular type of middle-class educated people.

enter image description here

enter image description here

Extract from Children's Games (1560)

enter image description here

Chinese Men Whipping Tops on Ice Surface - https://www.toysperiod.com/blog/games/discovering-spinning-tops/

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.