Thursday, August 1, 2013

Renaissance Faire



     Sunday afternoon at the Renaissance Faire in Bristol, Wisconsin. Always a pleasant family activity, some low-key wandering amidst the booths and trees, crowds and commotion. We enjoyed what we always enjoy — the dollar sarsaparillas, the sauteed mushrooms, the ornate costumes, the well-made crafts for sale. We bought handmade soap, and howled at the exuberant, vaudeville fun of the Mud Show, the highlight, as always.
     Cool weather helped — not so much for us, dressed in our 21st century cotton dishabille. But it can be uncomfortable just watching hardcore Faire-goers sweating under all those layers of velvet and brocade and armor beneath a fierce summer sun. Not this time.
      My boys speculated on the historical accuracy of it all. Was this really the Renaissance? Northern or Italian Renaissance? Wouldn't it be closer to the Medieval? (I didn't reply "Medieval Times may have already been copyrighted." Nor did I point out the growing Steam Punk presence, which might be historically accurate, but historically accurate to 2116. What I did say is, "There's no such thing as a historically accurate elf.")
      I'm not one to quibble over someone else's fantasy. This is a carnival, not a textbook. Visitors are offered plenty of undraped bosoms and weaponry — really, what more could a guy ask for on a Sunday? There's also mystery at the bottom of the Renaissance Faire, something substantial to chew on. What is it about the past that is so appealing to these people? What is buried there that they would dig for it so energetically, making costumes and assuming roles and talking in accents? Is it just fashion? The chance to dress in feathers and silk and steel? To escape the comfortable if drab casual of today, with our cargo shorts and t-shirts and flip-flops?
    Or is it the sense of freedom suggested by a more disordered time? The idea that you can take your staff and your tankard and wander the forests of yore? And maybe score with some woodland sprite or garden gnome? Or is this what you do instead of having a sex life?
     Of course their view of the past as an enticing fable is a lie. Pardon my buzz kill, but the true stink and cruelty and disease of that era would send any of us shrieking back to the modern world for a shower and a slug of penicillin. But why be harsh? It's a lie, but a benign lie. An illusion that harms no one and seems to embroider the summer for many. (As for sex, well, one shouldn't speculate; it's probably more of an enhancement than a substitute). Nothing wrong with a thread of fantasy to help us grope through our lives. Maybe the allure is the new start that we like to repeatedly discover for ourselves, a fresh beginning in the past, a blank slate, a step away from our plain and ordinary, scrape and struggle workdays, to re-invent our personalities in some imagined superior past where we can finally get to be the kings and queens we know ourselves to be, if only for one golden afternoon.


15 comments:

  1. If someone invited me to one of those "faires", I would ask only two questions: What did I do wrong & why am I being so severely punished for it?

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  2. It is an escape Neil. Just like any role playing game going back to the original Dungeons & Dragons. It is fantasy, romance, heroics, and more. People like to escape into the perceived romance of the era rather than the reality of it. Sandi

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  3. I think it's wonderful fun. I go every year, and I certainly don't go there looking for an authentic historical experience. (I don't think anyone does.)

    There's a reason the faire is so heavy in live shows and less so in, say, descriptions of the sanitary conditions of Elizabethan England.

    (They come closest with their weapons historians, but even that they liven up with hitting audience members with swords.)

    Plus, you get to play dress up, and pretend to be part of this silly little world. Generally, I dress as a ridiculous fool when I go, but certainly nothing that would ever be mistaken as historically accurate. It's just a chance to have silly fun, catch some fun shows, and watch men joust.

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  4. A tamer version of "Game of Thrones" perhaps?

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  5. The Bristol Renaissance Faire goes back a few decades; it was originally called King Arthur's Faire. I believe it existed long before Medieval Times, so there wouldn't have been a copyright problem. I agree with your sons; "Medieval" is more appropriate to the time period portrayed.

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    1. It was actually King Richard's Faire.

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  6. As I read this the picture of my son in his Gnome gear scrolled past my computer wall paper. I used to go as a Fairie, It's like being in a play all day. But the food isn't made of paper mache.

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  7. Wendy,

    I remember it as King Richard's Faire. Not that it matters, either way. Haven't been back in decades, but if I were to go, 65-degree weather would be about right...

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    1. @Jakash,

      I believe you're right, thanks for the correction. I haven't been out there in over twenty years, so perhaps the theme has changed to represent the Renaissance, at least with costumes. (I think Queen Elizabeth I was the monarch represented the last time I was there.)

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    2. It' still Elizabeth I. The last time I was there, I had a lovely conversation with her explaining that I was a time traveler, and in the future, Britain ruled the earth and we all rode flying dinosaurs.

      Needless to say, the actress was a tremendously good sport.

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    3. They changed quite a bit, it's become a "fantasy" faire more than a renaissance faire. Still a fun way to spend the day, and it's good to know there are still some independent craftspeople selling their wares as opposed to mass-produced trinkets (some of those there too).

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  8. I haven't been in years. Not a deliberate decision, just don't think of it. Perhaps after reading this.... Nah !

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  9. Mr. Steinberg, I notice you've appeared in the "today's columns" listings in the paper edition of the Sun-Times on weekdays recently -- has your "one column a week" status been rescinded? I hope so.

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  10. 'Twas King Richard's Faire, to be precise. I should know -- I still have the T-shirt. From 1985. (And no, it doesn't not still fit.)

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  11. Overpriced... and I think some of those in costume would have made good hippies at Woodstock.

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