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5 Things You Likely Won’t See at the Renaissance Festival

Anachronistic escapism

By Suzy Jacobson CherryPublished 10 months ago 3 min read
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The author at Arizona Renaissance Festival — photo by the author

Renaissance Festivals are outdoor gatherings that provide entertainment, food, drink, and fun for visitors. The faires usually take place in imaginary Renaissance or Medieval villages, most often intended to be set in England, though there are some that are set in different eras and locations. There are many such events around the world.

Wherever there’s a Renaissance Festival, there’s usually a lot of fun and fantasy. At most faires, there’s also a good bit of learning about the historic period in which it is intended to be set. Along with mermaids, faeries, and other fantasy creatures, one might see exhibits of wool carding, fabric dyeing, old-fashioned cooking, and the like.

My home festival — and the only one I’ve had the pleasure of attending for the last 25+ years until I started working there last year — is the Arizona Renaissance Festival. When I first started taking my children, it was much smaller, and there was much more in the way of historical accuracy than there is now. Nevertheless, there is always good food and good fun.

However, as historically accurate as some faires might or might not be, there are a few things you’re unlikely to see when visiting the Renaissance Festival.

Here are five of them.

  1. Plague victims. It’s lately become fashionable to attend the faire dressed as a plague doctor, but you’ll be hard pressed to find someone playing a victim and displaying buboes.
  2. Dung carts. Cities during the Renaissance period were crowded. There were no sewers, and carts rolled through the streets carrying out waste products. I’ve seen some carts roll through my festival, but none of them smell like literal crap.
  3. Folks with typhoid fever, dysentery, or cholera. These water-born diseases were prevalent in this time where it was difficult to ensure good water quality, especially in the cities. I have seen one person covered in (far too clean) rags as if they might be playing someone with leprosy, but that’s the closest I’ve seen.
  4. Royalty with rotten teeth. Believe it or not, rotten teeth were a sign of privilege because the aristocratic classes had access to sugar, which was too expensive for others to use in their cooking. Lower class women started dyeing their teeth black to make them appear rotten, as it became a standard of beauty. I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone with dyed teeth, but if I do, it won’t be the royals, I’m sure.
  5. Slave traders. Britain and Portugal together accounted for about 70% of all Africans transported to the Americas. Between 1640 and 1807 it’s estimated that Britain sent 3.1 million Africans to the British colonies in North and South America, the Caribbean, and to other countries. I would be shocked, embarrassed, and angry if I were to see anyone playing this particular fact of Renaissance life.

As much fun as we have playing RenFaire, I think it’s important that we remember that while the festival may be a grand old time, the actual time period itself was not all fun and games.

Those lances carried by the knights when they charged at one another in real battle actually drew blood. Jousting was practice and they held tournaments for a show of prowess, just like today.

Of course, jousting can be dangerous even now, and never should be tried at home. One wrong move, and someone could poke their eye out.

***

This story first appeared in In For a Penny on Medium.

HumanityPop CultureHistorical
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About the Creator

Suzy Jacobson Cherry

Writer. Artist. Educator. Interspiritual Priestess. I write poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and thoughts on stuff I love.

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