England toward the end of the
1500's was a country with one foot poised at the brink of discovery
and world power, and the other foot firmly rooted in its long
and legendary past. Queen Elizabeth I was certainly one of the
ablest rulers the British people have ever known, with a genius
for leading and for choosing able captains to represent her interests
abroad, such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh.
Elizabeth was gifted with a
great sense of P.R., and would gather up her entourage each and
every Spring and travel out of London, out to meet the common
folk who loved and revered her. When she would deign to descend
upon a small hamlet all work would stop, all prisoners would
usually be pardoned, and a special holiday would commence.
This would, you see, be the
only chance in a lifetime most of these simple peasants and townspeople
would ever have of seeing their Queen (or indeed of seeing almost
anyone of noble birth - in those days before rapid transportation
and mass communication most people never journeyed more than
a couple of miles beyond their home town, hence this once in
a lifetime visit from the Queen was the equivalent of the first
moon landing, Lindburgh's ticker tape parade in New York, and
Woodstock all rolled into one!)
The sights that greeted this
thoroughly modern far sighted Queen were something else again.
In 16th Century England the
simple peasants still actively celebrated the thousand year old
rites their pre-Christian ancestors had observed. Costumed mummers,
followed by a horde of singing and dancing peasants, would don
wondrous and horrible masks and reenact that oldest of folkloric
rituals: the ageless drama of birth, death and rebirth. Jack
of the Green would do battle with Grim Winter for the life of
Flora, goddess of Spring, be slain even as he slayed Winter,
and be awakened by the sweet breath of Spring.
Elsewhere the ancient Celtic
habits of human sacrifice had given way to the symbolism of "Morris
Dancing", which involved amazing interplay with scarves
and swords and often culminated in a symbolic beheading.
In general the overall feeling
would be one of genial chaos, with a newly freed class of peasants
struggling to find their way in a modern world, a newly developed
entity called the "middle class" searching for their
niche, a thousand superstitions, both pious and pagan, running
at collision speed toward the new "modernism" of the
more enlightened nobles and merchants.
There's a place you can go,
right now, to see all this. It's called the Renaissance Faire,
it's going on right now through the first or second weekend of
June, and it's a Must See. Forget about your Murder Mystery weekends,
this is a lot cheaper and a lot more intricate.
The setting is that of a typical
English village in the late 1500's, on that one day in a lifetime
that Queen Elizabeth is coming to visit. It's held on the Old
Paramount Ranch in Agoura where all the old Westerns were filmed,
all the local papers have ads running, and it's rumored that
this could be one of its last years.