Fall is here again, and with it comes Fair season – Church Fairs, Grange Fairs, State Fairs, Harvest Festivals, and perhaps the most fun of all – The Renaissance Faire.
Renaissance Faires are newer than you think. The first official “Renaissance Faire” traces back to Los Angeles in 1963, when a school teacher named Phyllis Patterson put one on for a weekend fundraiser for radio station KPFK, and more than 8,000 people showed up. A fall staple was born (because, let’s face it, NO ONE wants to be buried under that many yards of wool, satin, and leather in the middle of July).
Why the Renaissance? Why not Roman Bacchanalias with chariot races? Why not the Dark Ages? Why not Pompeiian pageants? Celebrating the gruesome deaths of a city of people might be just a tad morbid. The Dark Ages were – well, Dark. We don’t know much about them, because following the fall of Rome civilization was illiterate, spread out, and little was going on beyond warfare and survival. And Rome? Rome certainly had a lot going for it, but not many speak Latin anymore, and togas, while simple and fun for frat parties, just don’t have the suave flair of swashbuckling boots, rapiers, and villains’ pointed beards and mustaches. The Renaissance has far more possibilities.
Rising up out of the depths of the Black Plague, the Renaissance means, literally, a rebirth. Disenchanted with a church that did not save them from the plague, men turned to science to keep them safe, resulting in great advancements in learning, science, art, music, and warfare. Stretching from 1300 to 1600, the Renaissance saw the rise of DaVinci, of Galileo, Columbus, Martin Luther, the printing press, Magellan, Henry VIII, William Harvey, the advent of gunpowder, muskets, and the waning of armor and swords. Most Renaissance Faires throw in the likes of Robin Hood (earliest tales date to 1377), and sometimes even King Arthur, who, although Malory’s history of Le Morte D’Artur is published in 1470, the story from which The Once and Future King is taken, is believed to have lived, if he’s not merely legend, sometime between 600 and 800. Herein lie the tales of valor, not long before the Three Musketeers, the tales of actual pirates Barbossa and William Kyd, of Dutch corsairs and privateers, and let’s not forget Shakespeare (though Shakespeare’s plays, though written and performed around 1600, were often taken from history much older: King MacBeth actually lived in the 1000’s). That’s a lot of romanticized history to be able to play with, a lot of possibilities for actors to delve into. Hence Renaissance Faires are full of LARPers (live-action role players) and SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism, hard-core medieval recreationists) members running about. Your inner Dragon Master can run amok, and no one will ever know.
So pull on your hose, strap on your broadsword, lace your corset, and get ready for an imaginative adventure back in time, and if you’re not careful, you just might learn something. Faires can offer a diversity of activities such as Birds of Prey shows, sword forging, glass blowing, theater, jousting, live chess tournaments, musicians, and more, as well as authentic foods, drink, clothing, crafts, and entertainments. Check out the Connecticut Renaissance Faire, or if you like a drive, try the larger ones like King Richard’s Faire in Massachusetts, or my favorite, The New York Renaissance Faire in Tuxedo, New York. They’re worth the trip! For a more in-depth experience, check these great books out as well: