There exists a magical place where not only are you free to identify as who or whatever you wish, but you’re also encouraged to adopt a persona that defies reality. You aren’t restricted to the narrow LGBQTIA+ choices our unimaginative liberal elites have imposed, either. Nay, in this ultra-diverse, inclusive land, you’re expected to dream beyond this century — this planet even — and transition uninhibited into whatever strikes your fantasy.
No, not the “metaverse”; I’m referring to the time-honored American tradition of the Renaissance Faire, where history buffs, fantasy nerds, down-and-out actors, and normal suburban families converge to create a giant freakshow that is innocent fun at its best.
The Pittsburgh Renaissance Festival came to town right before Labor Day, so I dusted off the velveteen Eleanor of Aquitaine gown my mother hand-sewed for an eighth-grade play and did my duty to keep the culture alive (though the heavy, dark amethyst trappings and ninety-degree heat made it feel as though I were giving my life for queen and country via heatstroke).
The “Renaissance” designation gets blurred at these gatherings. Anything goes, so long as it’s fantastic. Unlike the nonspecific showiness of a Mardi Gras carnival, where making a spectacle is all that matters, at the Ren Faire, people are meticulous about their guises. They sew custom accessories, spend small fortunes on authentic armory, and invent and memorize elaborate backstories, staying true to character so long as they remain in the “Realm.” You start to wonder if they know it’s a joke, or if the joke’s on you.
Henry VIII — in gorgeous green and gold brocade — greeted us at the festival entrance. We mingled with elves and fairies, buxom women in peasant dresses, extras from Game of Thrones, Middle Earth castoffs, knights, Celtic warlords and one unicorn. We perused period clothing (cloaks and corsets) at the “Boss Wench” booth and purchased a “unique leather dragon pet” for a nephew and a flower crown for a niece, steering clear of the fortune-telling witches reeking of patchouli and sorcery.
We joined throngs of people on the hillside to watch the “chivalry and pageantry” of the “Knights of Noble Cause” as they jousted before the royal court “for honor, glory and bloodshed!” “The Duelists” put on a show that was heavier on bawdy humor than on “sword-fighting and historical weapons education,” so we meandered past the “Squire of the Wire” and the Master Falconer to the Royal Eateries tent for some Scotch eggs and a roast turkey leg, passing on “ye olde Pepsi.”
It was a grand day, full of living history (albeit slightly muddled by the odd futuristic cross-over that is “steampunk”) and merriment. Who needs the metaverse when the melting pot of imagination that is the Renaissance Faire can transport you to another time and place?
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s October 2022 World edition.