Beams of sun fought to break through the autumn leaves on a crisp Saturday morning as a portly King Henry VIII and his queen, Katherine of Aragon, stood at the entrance of Revel Grove. With a flourish and a little pomp and circumstance, the King’s Court shouts, make way for the King! Trumpets sound. Flags wave. The crowd cheers. And the gates of the 24th annual Maryland Renaissance Festival open, leaving behind Beltway traffic, cell phones and the noise and confusion of modern day life.
Every weekend from late August to late October, several thousand people opt to leave the world they know and become immersed in the life and drama of the fictional village of Revel Grove in 1527.
Inside the gates lies a veritable mecca of street performers, artisans, food and games. But people do not come to the second-largest renaissance festival in the country just to learn about the history – they come to live it. They come in costume. In kilts. In capes. In corsets. And with lots of cleavage.
Participants in the festival speak in Old English, greeting each other with phrases like good morrow kind lady. They are often chivalric, with a penchant for Shakespeare, Chaucer, Donne and DaVinci. The people inside the wooded sanctuary of Revel Grove have a special reverence for that which is old and which, in today’s era of high-tech cultural disconnect, may be forgotten.
Throughout the 125-acre parcel of land just outside Annapolis, Md., the players of Revel Grove take to the stage and to the path for their performances. There are eight stages for the festival’s performers, who perform shows with names like Othello: Just Another Bad Day, or Renaissance Man. There is Chance Darewithal, a street performer willing to take any risk – even offering to torture himself – for fun and for the occasional beer.
There are Celtic musicians and dancers, drunken sing-a-longs at the taverns and in the streets, comedic mud wrestling and magic shows. Jousting and human chess are the most popular activities.
Jousting – the official state sport of Maryland – at the festival is real, as are the punches, the blows and the pounding of horse hooves. Players often perform with little regard for safety, and occasionally for social decorum. Scripts are filled with double entendres and blatant sexual innuendo, which even comes through in Old English.
In addition to the plays and performances, there is the interwoven story line of the festival itself, which adds layers of history and fun to a visit.
Whispered rumors in the court last year are now fodder for gossip by peasants. It seems the King has fallen deeply in love with Lady Anne Boleyn. Last year the Queen dismissed the romance as a summer dalliance, but now she cannot ignore the King’s passion for Lady Anne, and his determination to provide an heir to the thrown.
In the village Mayor Collier Remmington has returned from his travels to find Revel Grove in an uproar. It seems Nathaniel Prickett has been appointed as the new Justice of the Peace, and is determined to set Revel Grove’s business affairs in proper order, which may mean Mayor Remmington and Sheriff Marshall will be out of a job. Town officials must also contend with Filberta Fowler, who believes she has found an ancient Roman ruin beneath her house.
While the festival still offers modern amenities, it still accepts The Kings Visa and The Queens MasterCard. The festival also offers beer on tap and a large row of port-a-potties outside the gates. But for the most part, the festival seems surprisingly authentic and realistic. Many of the artisans do their work by hand. The glass blowers host shows every half hour.
Visitors can rent costumes for the day at the festival’s entrance. Food and drink is sold at reasonable prices, but some souvenirs are a bit expensive. Admission is $15, but the festival is definitely worth it for anyone hoping to escape the humdrum of District life and travel back in time. The festival is about a 20-minute drive from GW. For more information on the festival, driving directions and group rates, visit the fair’s Web site at www.rennfest.com.