Renaissance fair

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An actress playing the role of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 2003. Mary Queen of Scots reenactor.jpg
An actress playing the role of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 2003.

A Renaissance fair, Renaissance faire or Renaissance festival is an outdoor weekend gathering, usually held in the United States, open to the public and typically commercial in nature, which purportedly recreates a historical setting for the amusement of its guests. Some are permanent theme parks, while others are short-term events in a fairground, winery, or other large public or private spaces. [1] Renaissance fairs generally include an abundance of costumed entertainers or fair-goers, musical and theatrical acts, art and handicrafts for sale, and festival food. Some offer campgrounds for those who wish to stay more than one day. [2] Many Renaissance fairs are set during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Some are set earlier, during the reign of Henry VIII, or in other countries, such as France, and some are set outside the era of the Renaissance; these may include earlier medieval periods (including Vikings), or later periods, such as 17th- or 18th-century pirates. Some engage in deliberate "time travel" by encouraging participants to wear costumes representing several eras in a broad time period. Renaissance fairs encourage visitors to enter into the spirit of things with costumes and audience participation. Many welcome fantasy elements such as wizards and elves. [3]

Elizabeth I of England Queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until 24 March 1603

Elizabeth I was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death on 24 March 1603. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor.

Henry VIII of England 16th-century King of England

Henry VIII was King of England from 1509 until his death in 1547. He was the second Tudor monarch, succeeding his father Henry VII. Henry is best known for his six marriages, in particular his efforts to have his first marriage annulled. His disagreement with the Pope on the question of such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from papal authority. He appointed himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, for which he was excommunicated. Henry is also known as "the father of the Royal Navy"; he invested heavily in the Navy, increasing its size greatly from a few to more than 50 ships.

Middle Ages Period of European history from the 5th to the 15th century

In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. The Middle Ages is the middle period of the three traditional divisions of Western history: classical antiquity, the medieval period, and the modern period. The medieval period is itself subdivided into the Early, High, and Late Middle Ages.



Harp player at Scarborough Faire, Texas (2009) Scarborough-Faire-TX-2385e.jpg
Harp player at Scarborough Faire, Texas (2009)
Fantasy elements, such as centaurs, are welcomed at some Renaissance fairs TRF centaur.jpg
Fantasy elements, such as centaurs, are welcomed at some Renaissance fairs
Jousting knights perform on horseback at the Texas Renaissance Festival (2005) Horses joust.jpg
Jousting knights perform on horseback at the Texas Renaissance Festival (2005)

Most Renaissance fairs are arranged to represent an imagined village in England during the reign of Elizabeth I, as this period has been generally considered to correspond to the flowering of the English Renaissance.

English Renaissance

The English Renaissance was a cultural and artistic movement in England dating from the late 15th century to the early 17th century. It is associated with the pan-European Renaissance that is usually regarded as beginning in Italy in the late 14th century. As in most of the rest of northern Europe, England saw little of these developments until more than a century later. The beginning of the English Renaissance is often taken, as a convenience, to be 1485, when the Battle of Bosworth Field ended the Wars of the Roses and inaugurated the Tudor Dynasty. Renaissance style and ideas, however, were slow to penetrate England, and the Elizabethan era in the second half of the 16th century is usually regarded as the height of the English Renaissance.

In a modern Renaissance festival there are stages or performance areas set up for scheduled shows, such as plays in Shakespearean or commedia dell'arte tradition, as well as anachronistic audience participation comedy routines. Other performances include dancers, magicians, musicians, jugglers, and singers. Between the stages the streets ("lanes") are lined with stores ("shoppes") and stalls where independent vendors sell medieval and Renaissance themed handcrafts, clothing, books, and artworks. There are food and beverage vendors, as well as game and ride areas. Games include basic skills events such as archery or axe-throwing as well as Drench-a-Wench and Soak-a-Bloke, which allow a player with a good aim to hit a target and get a fair employee wet. Rides are typically not machine powered; various animal rides and human-powered swings are common. Live animal displays and falconry exhibitions are also commonplace. Larger Renaissance fairs will often include a joust as a main attraction. PETA and Born Free USA have protested the use of elephants and camels at the Maryland Renaissance Festival and Arizona Renaissance Festival. [4] [5]

William Shakespeare 16th and 17th-century English playwright and poet

William Shakespeare was an English poet, playwright and actor, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's greatest dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon". His extant works, including collaborations, consist of approximately 39 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and a few other verses, some of uncertain authorship. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

<i>Commedia dellarte</i> theatre characterized by masked “types”

Commedia dell'arte was an early form of professional theatre, originating from Italy, that was popular in Europe from the 16th to the 18th century. Commedia dell'arte is also known as commedia alla maschera, commedia improvviso, and commedia dell'arte all'improvviso. Commedia is a form of theatre characterized by masked "types" which began in Italy in the 16th century and was responsible for the advent of actresses and improvised performances based on sketches or scenarios. A commedia, such as The Tooth Puller, is both scripted and improvised. Characters' entrances and exits are scripted. A special characteristic of commedia dell'arte are the lazzi. A lazzo is a joke or "something foolish or witty", usually well known to the performers and to some extent a scripted routine. Another characteristic of commedia dell'arte is pantomime, which is mostly used by the character Arlecchino (Harlequin).

Anachronism chronological inconsistency

An anachronism is a chronological inconsistency in some arrangement, especially a juxtaposition of persons, events, objects, or customs from different periods of time. The most common type of anachronism is an object misplaced in time, but it may be a verbal expression, a technology, a philosophical idea, a musical style, a material, a plant or animal, a custom, or anything else associated with a particular period in time that is placed outside its proper temporal domain.

In addition to the staged performances, a major attraction of Renaissance fairs is the crowds of actors—both professional and amateur—who play historical figures and roam the fair, interacting with visitors. Visitors are encouraged to wear costumes, contributing to the illusion of an actual Renaissance environment. Some allow weapons that are suitably peace-bonded, others only allow fair employees to wear them. Many of the fair vendors sell or rent costumes for all ages and types. The Renaissance fair subculture's word for these costumed guests is "playtrons", a portmanteau of the words "player" and "patron", and they add a second level of enjoyment to their experience by "getting into the act" as Renaissance Lords and Ladies, peasants, pirates, belly dancers, or fantasy characters. However, many Renaissance fairs discourage interaction between the official cast and so-called "playtrons."

A portmanteau or portmanteau word is a linguistic blend of words, in which parts of multiple words or their phones (sounds) are combined into a new word, as in smog, coined by blending smoke and fog, or motel, from motor and hotel. In linguistics, a portmanteau is defined as a single morph that represents two or more morphemes.

Most fairs have an end-of-the-day ritual, a parade, dance or concert where all employees gather and bid farewell to the patrons.

Renaissance fairs are staged around the world at different times of the year. Fair vendors, participants and crew often work the "fair circuit", going from event to event as one fair ends and another begins.

History of the fairs in the United States

Blacksmith at Scarborough Faire, Texas (2009) Scarborough-Faire-TX-2390e.jpg
Blacksmith at Scarborough Faire, Texas (2009)

In post-World War II America, there was a resurgence of interest in medieval and Renaissance culture. In the 1950s, there was a very strong early music revival, and out of that came folk musician and traditionalist John Langstaff. In 1957, Langstaff held "A Christmas Masque of Traditional Revels" in New York City, and the following year another in Washington, DC. A televised version was broadcast on the "Hallmark Hall of Fame" in 1966 which included Dustin Hoffman playing the part of the dragon slain by Saint George, and in 1971 Langstaff established a permanent Christmas Revels in Cambridge, Massachusetts. [6]

The general discussion of how to perform music from ancient or earlier times did not become an important subject of interest until the 19th century, when Europeans began looking to ancient culture generally, and musicians began to discover the musical riches from earlier centuries. The idea of performing early music more "authentically", with a sense of incorporating performance practice, was more completely established in the 20th century, creating a modern early music revival that continues today.

John Langstaff, a concert baritone, and early music revivalist was the founder of the Northeast United States tradition of the Christmas Revels, as well as a respected musician and educator. He attended the Curtis Institute of Music as well as the Juilliard.

<i>Hallmark Hall of Fame</i> television series

Hallmark Hall of Fame, originally called Hallmark Television Playhouse, is an anthology program on American television, sponsored by Hallmark Cards, a Kansas City-based greeting card company. The longest-running primetime series in the history of television, it first aired in 1951 and continues into the present day. From 1954 onward, all of its productions have been broadcast in color. It is one of the first video productions to telecast in color, a rarity in the 1950s. Many television movies have been shown on the program since its debut, though the program began with live telecasts of dramas and then changed to videotaped productions before finally changing to filmed ones.

In 1963, Los Angeles schoolteacher Phyllis Patterson held a very small Renaissance fair as a class activity, in the backyard of her Laurel Canyon home in the Hollywood Hills. On May 11 and 12 of that year, Patterson and her husband, Ron Patterson, presented the first "Renaissance Pleasure Faire" as a one-weekend fundraiser for radio station KPFK which drew some 8,000 people. The fair was designed by the Living History Center to resemble an actual Spring market fair of the period. [7] Many of the original booths were no-charge reenactments of historical activities, including printing presses and blacksmiths. The first commercial vendors were mostly artisans and food merchants and were required to demonstrate historical accuracy or plausibility for their wares. Groups of volunteers were organized into "guilds" to focus on specific reenactment duties (musicians, military, Celtic clans, peasants, etc.). Both actors and vendors were required to successfully complete workshops in period language and accents, costuming, and culture, and to stay "in character" while working. [8]

KPFK is a listener-sponsored radio station based in North Hollywood, California, United States, which serves Southern California, and also streams 24 hours a day via the Internet. It was the second of five stations in the non-commercial, listener-sponsored Pacifica Foundation network.

Morris dancers entertain Queen Elizabeth, Renaissance Pleasure Faire, Agoura, c. 1986 Rpfs 1986.jpg
Morris dancers entertain Queen Elizabeth, Renaissance Pleasure Faire, Agoura, c. 1986

The original Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California (RPFS) was held in the Spring 1966 at the Paramount Ranch located in Agoura, California, focusing on the practices of old English springtime markets and "Maying" customs. In 1967, the Pattersons created a Fall Renaissance fair, with a harvest festival theme, first at what is now China Camp State Park in San Rafael, California, and in 1971 at the Black Point Forest in Novato, California. Both fairs developed into local traditions and began a movement that spread across the country. [9]

Booths at the Medieval Market of Turku in Turku, Finland Turku Medieval Market, market booths.jpg
Booths at the Medieval Market of Turku in Turku, Finland

Although historical reenactments are by no means exclusive to the United States (for example, the Earl of Eglinton in Scotland sponsored a large tournament in 1839), [10] the Renaissance fair is largely an American variation on the theme. European historical fairs, such as those held at Kentwell Hall in Suffolk, England, operate more on the living history museum model, in which an actual historic site is peopled by re-enactors whose job it is to explain historical life to modern visitors. [11]

In recent years, American-style Renaissance fairs have made inroads in other countries. Germany has seen a very similar phenomenon since the 1980s (see Mittelaltermarkt), and beginning in the mid-1990s, Renaissance fairs have spread into Canada and Australia.

Spinoffs of Renaissance fairs also include fairs set in other time periods, such as Christmas fairs set in Charles Dickens' London. [12]


Renaissance fairs have several variant names, many of which use old-fashioned spellings such as faire or fayre. These spellings originate from the Middle English feire (variant spellings include feyre, faire, and fayre), which comes from the Anglo-French word feire. [13] They can also be referred to as "Elizabethan", "Medieval", or "Tudor" fairs or festivals. "Ren Fair" and "Ren Fest" are popular colloquialisms. A German Mittelaltermarkt (literally "medieval market") is very similar to a Renaissance fair. Many Catalan towns hold Mercats Medievals (literally "medieval markets") as part of their annual festivities.

Internal debates

Within the Renaissance fair community, there is a difference of opinion as to how authentic a fair ought to be. Some believe fairs should be as authentic an experience as possible, with educational aspects like European living history museums. [14] Others believe that entertainment is the primary goal. Phyllis Patterson steered the original California Renaissance Pleasure Faires along a middle path, and had coined the phrase “We trick into learning with a laugh” to demonstrate that philosophy of merging history and entertainment. [15] Richard Shapiro, who founded what later became the Bristol Renaissance Faire outside Chicago, said he favored entertainment. He was quoted as having said, "We were so authentic back then it was almost painful." [16]

Notable fairs

See also


  1. "State fairgrounds could benefit from fuller calendar", Battle Creek Enquirer, 2007-09-05.
  2. "Louisiana", Renaissance Festival, archived from the original on 2007-06-08.
  3. de Groot, Jerome (2009). Consuming History: Historians and Heritage in Contemporary Popular Culture. Routledge. p. 120. ISBN   0203889002.
  4. Gillespie, Paul W. "Maryland Renaissance Festival". Capital Gazette. Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  5. "'PETA planning protest at Arizona Renaissance Festival".
  6. Derek Schofield (2006-03-10), "Obituary: Jack Langstaff", The Guardian, UK.
  7. Thomas, Peter; Kember, Michael; Sneed, Richard J (1987), The Faire: Photographs and History of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire from 1963 onwards, The Good Book Press .
  8. Fox, Margalit (January 30, 2011). "Ron Patterson, Renaissance (Fair) Man, Dies at 80". New York Times. Retrieved 18 January 2016.
  9. Rubin, Rachel (2012). Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture. New York: New York University Press. ISBN   9780814771389.
  10. Girouard, Mark (1981), The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman, Yale University Press, ISBN   0-300-02739-7
  11. Horsler, Val (2003), Living the Past, London, ENG, UK: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, in association with English Heritage, ISBN   0-297-84312-5 .
  12. Zavoral, Linda. "Annual Dickens Fair chases the Scrooge away". The Mercury News. Bay Area News Group. Retrieved 20 December 2017.
  13. Kurath, Hans (1953), Lewis, Robert E (ed.), Middle English Dictionary, 8, University of Michigan Press, p. 451, retrieved 2009-09-11.
  14. "Bristol Renaissance Faire for more than kings, queens", Star, Chicago Heights: Star newspapers, 2007-08-23, archived from the original on 2007-09-27, Bristol Renaissance Faire organizers strive for authenticity.
  15. Faire History, The Origins of Pleasure Faire, 2016-07-13.
  16. "King Richard's Faire brings a Renaissance revival", The Providence Journal (online ed.), 2007-08-30.

Related Research Articles

Historical reenactment activity where people recreate aspects of a historical event

Historical reenactment is an educational or entertainment activity in which people follow a plan to recreate aspects of a historical event or period. This may be as narrow as a specific moment from a battle, such as the reenactment of Pickett's Charge presented during the Great Reunion of 1913, or as broad as an entire period, such as Regency reenactment or The 1920s Berlin Project.

Fair gathering of people for a variety of entertainment or commercial activities

A fair, also known as a funfair, is a gathering of people for a variety of entertainment or commercial activities. It is normally of the essence of a fair that it is temporary with scheduled times lasting from an afternoon to several weeks.

Medieval reenactment subcultural scene

Medieval reenactment is a form of historical reenactment that focuses on re-enacting European history in the period from the fall of Rome to about the end of the 15th century. The second half of this period is often called the Middle Ages. This multiplicity of terms is compounded by the variety of other terms used for the period.

Medieval Market of Turku

The Medieval Market of Turku is an annual historical reenactment event organised in the historic city centre of Turku, Finland. Admission to the event is free. In addition to living history performances, it includes an open-air handicrafts market with vendors and even visitors garbed in period costume. The main market is at the Old Great Square, but there are other performances and exhibitions at Turku Castle, Turku Cathedral and at the Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova Museum. Together these different performances and exhibitions form the Medieval Turku event, which is organized in unison by Turun Suurtorin keskiaika ry, the Museum Centre of Turku, the Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova museum, Rohan Stables and Turku and Kaarina Parish Union. These areas are closed to traffic during the event.

New York Renaissance Faire

The New York Renaissance Faire is a Renaissance faire located in Tuxedo, New York off New York State Route 17A. In 2017, the faire celebrated its 40th season. The 65-acre (260,000 m2) faire comprises permanent structures and has twenty stages and more than 100 shops. The fair runs nine weekends beginning the first Saturday in August, with a seventeenth faire day each Labor Day Monday.

Ardenwood Historic Farm human settlement in California, United States of America

Ardenwood Historic Farm is a Regional Historic Landmark in Fremont, California. It is managed by the East Bay Regional Park District.

Bristol Renaissance Faire renaissance festival in Wisconsin

Bristol Renaissance Faire ("Bristol") is a Renaissance fair held in a Renaissance-themed park in the village of Bristol, Wisconsin. It recreates a visit of Queen Elizabeth I to the English port city of "Bristol" in the year 1574. The faire runs for the nine weekends from early July through Labor Day.

Arizona Renaissance Festival Renaissance-themed amusement park and Renaissance fair in Arizona

The Arizona Renaissance Festival is a Renaissance-themed amusement park and Renaissance fair located in Gold Canyon, Arizona, east of the Phoenix metro area in Pinal County. First run in 1989, the Arizona Renaissance Festival runs from mid winter to early spring every year due to the mild winter and spring weather. The fictional village of Fairhaven is open Saturdays, Sundays, and President's Day Monday.

Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire

The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire is a Renaissance fair occurring over 13 weekends from early-August through late-October on the grounds of the Mount Hope Estate and Winery in Manheim, Pennsylvania. In 1980, the Estate was sold and converted to a winery.

Louisiana Renaissance Festival

The Louisiana Renaissance Festival is a renaissance fair near Hammond, Louisiana. The festival takes place on a location that emulates a historical 16th century village (Albright) in England during the 1565 fall harvest festival. Renaissance fairs began in the 1960s in California. The Louisiana Renaissance Festival started in 2000 and explores subcultural movements in Renaissance art, crafts, music, and theatre. Cast members are dressed as people would have been dressed during the 1560s.

Carolina Renaissance Festival festival held annually in North Carolina, USA

The Carolina Renaissance Festival is a Renaissance fair held annually on Saturdays and Sundays in October and November. The festival is located just north of Charlotte, North Carolina between the towns of Huntersville, North Carolina and Concord, North Carolina near the intersection of 73 and Poplar Tent Road.

The Highland Renaissance Festival is a permanent Renaissance Festival located on former farmland in Eminence, Kentucky and set in the fictional early 14th century village of Briarwood in the Highlands of Scotland in the time when Robert the Bruce ruled. The year 1320, to be exact. It is in the center of a triangle created by the cities of Louisville, Lexington, and Cincinnati, and is the first permanent renaissance festival in the state of Kentucky.

Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California

The Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California (RPFS) is the first modern Renaissance faire to occur in America. It opened in the spring of 1963 and has been an annual event since then. Presently owned by Renaissance Entertainment Productions (REP), it is a commercial reenactment of a 1580s market faire at Port Deptford, a waterfront town in Elizabethan era England. The Faire is generally open from the first weekend of April through the weekend before Memorial Day.

Texas Renaissance Festival An annual Renaissance fair in Texas

The Texas Renaissance Festival is an annual Renaissance fair located in Todd Mission, Texas, about 55 miles northwest of Houston.

Sterling Renaissance Festival

Sterling Renaissance Festival is a Renaissance Festival that operates in Sterling, New York. It runs for seven consecutive weekends through July and August. The Festival was founded in 1976 by Dennis Ouellette, Sr., and later owned and operated by Gerald and Virginia Young. The festival was purchased in 2008 by Doug Waterbury.

Kansas City Renaissance Festival

The Kansas City Renaissance Festival is a Renaissance fair held each fall in Bonner Springs, Kansas. Each year the fair begins on Labor Day weekend and continues for seven weekends, open on Saturdays and Sundays as well as Labor Day and Columbus Day. The faire began in 1977 as a benefit for the Kansas City Art Institute, and became a stand-alone event in the late 1990s. Presently, the fair has 165 booths and 13 stages, entertaining 180,000 patrons annually on 16 operating days.

Renaissance reenactment

Renaissance reenactment is historical reenactment of events of the Renaissance period and the European Age of Exploration. In its broadest use, it encompasses reenactment of periods from 1400 through the mid-18th century. Reenactments of earlier events are commonly termed medieval reenactment, while more recent events are modern reenactment. Events and periods within Renaissance reenactment vary by region and nation, but include the English Civil War in the United Kingdom, the Eighty Years' War in the Low Countries, L'Escalade in Switzerland, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in eastern Europe, and the early colonial period in the United States and Canada.

A Dickens fair, Dickens Christmas fair, or Dickens festival is weekend or multi-weekend gathering, usually held in the United States, open to the public and typically commercial in nature, which attempts to recreate a Victorian English setting reminiscent of the novels of Charles Dickens. Events may be outdoor, indoor or a combination of the two. The great majority are Christmas-themed, a reflection of the enduring legacy of Dickens' novella A Christmas Carol. The fairs generally include an abundance of costumed entertainers and fair-goers, musical and theatrical acts, and art, handicrafts, food and drink for sale.