There’s a story lodged in your head? You’re lucky to have such a powerful thing.
Renaissance faires–enthusiastically–represent a history that never happened. People don’t study up to attend a faire. They absorb the lingo and the manners of behavior through osmosis. God’s teeth, they barely spoke English back then. And they certainly didn’t have overpriced turkey legs and diet cokes. Complaints like this are common, even with faire attendees, but they miss the point.
The European Renaissance happened in stages from roughly the fourteenth through the seventeenth centuries. Wikipedia will tell you that it was vaguely sandwiched in-between the Baroque period and what we patronizingly call the “Middle Ages”–or, even worse, we call them the “Dark Ages” as if people walked around with torches, the better to see the martyrs they were about to burn.
Many of you probably think of the Renaissance as a period of cultural and scientific leaps, increased literacy, and educational improvements. It’s when Michaelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine chapel on his back and Leonardo invented the helicopter and the scaffold. Right? A lot of this did happen, more or less. Of course, there was an awful lot of other stuff going on in the world during these slightly better-lit years. This picture is all most of you need to get a feel for the era, possibly supplemented by Monty Python’s take on this important time in European history. You’ll get some of that through osmosis, too.
But I’m not here to mock the fantastic, quasi-historical weekend you’re about to have. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m a little disappointed that ren faires don’t celebrate the intellectual freedom that was its hallmark as much as they could, but I still love them. These faires will give you a wonderful, permissive license to imagine your lives in other ways.
Some of you get in character to attend the faire. Maybe your characters are well thought-out, or ill-defined and vague. But it almost doesn’t matter: Regular faire-goers are people who are comfortable with the stories in their heads. While some of you walking through the ticket booth are there to see the people in silly costumes, many of you know precisely what to expect when you walk past the tents selling clothing and lutes and pouches. (The pocket as we know it was invented a few centuries after the time of Chaucer.) Some of you will join the festivities by putting on gracious airs, or speaking in an accent that could, charitably, be described as a pastiche of the “Elizabethan” accent.
Some of you want to construct an “historical persona” that might have existed in a post-medieval bazaar, complete with appearance and airs. Some will role-play, deferring to the king as he inexplicably, imperiously walks through the mud of the marketplace. And there are those who are entertainers, with a backstory, tailored costume, and a modus operandi ready to be shared with this world of the gloriously dusty past.
But all of you have a story in your head. You one-time curiosity-seeking patrons who happened across the faire on the way to Sunday brunch? Every one of you almost certainly will wonder how you could fit into this scene. If you wanted to.
I’m an entertainer, and I have a costume and a story and a mode of behavior. I get it, mostly. I have a foot in the tent door, and I think I know why my new renny friends do all this, and what draws all of you here: A story in the head is a powerful thing, and must be deferred to. A little deference to the bright tale in my head is enough to get the story out of my head, where I can share it with others.
Because a faire is nothing without sharing our personas, our stories, our reasons for being there. We’re bring someone else along in our heads for a weekend, even if it’s a someone else that’s just a little bit different than who we really are.
Those stories in your heads? In our lives of commuting and paying the bills and microwaving dinner, those stories can be difficult to let out without feeling a little silly.
At a renaissance faire, everybody’s being, let’s face it, a little silly. And that’s the key: The faire gives us a reason to imagine that things are not as they are. And a reason to spend a couple of days telling those stories.
This article would be much less colorful and festive without the help of Julie Goldberg.
Neil Fein is a freelance editor who specializes in novels. If you’ve written a manuscript or are getting close to finishing, you can get in touch with him here, and even ask for a free sample edit. He rides his bicycle as much as he can, and he paints when he damn well feels like it. He also plays acoustic guitar in the bands Baroque & Hungry.