Eat, drink and be merry: A return to the Renaissance
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – The year is 1533, and the place is the sprawling, fictional village of Fairhaven where the English king and queen wave to their adoring subjects at a joust full of revelry.
Since 1994, the Carolina Renaissance Festival has delighted visitors by transporting them back in time to a 22-acre story-book village set against a forest ablaze with fall color.
While weekend guests have the opportunity to bite into large turkey legs, buy elaborate period costumes, enjoy bawdy shows and even ride on an elephant, students who visit the event receive a more educational experience.
“It’s a highlight of our year,” said Dreisa Sherrill, assistant principal of Brawley Middle School. “Our students see another era and experience real-life applications of old technology through glass-blowing and knife-throwing demonstrations.”
Although the festival hires more than 300 medieval commoners, merchants, nobles and knights to roam its tree-lined paths and interact with guests, students benefit from specific lectures.
“Our lord mayor is generally funny and silly when he performs on the streets or during the joust for the public,” Matt Seigel, marketing director of the event, said. “But when students visit, he talks to them about chivalry in this period, how spices were used in cooking, the daily life of villagers and what made the Renaissance happen.”
Janice Krivanek, sixth-grade language arts teacher at Brawley, said her students love the event because they learn while having fun.
“Kids like to hear all the people who work there speak in the language of the times like ‘Good morrow m’lord’ and to see the outfits people would wear.”
Peyton Harvey, one of her students, reflected that “the dungeon wasn’t exactly as detailed as we’d learned about in social studies, but it was really good to see one in real life.”
The dungeon, a dark stone building, portrays different torture methods used during the period like hanging and the rack. It serves as a slice of history amidst the festivities of fortune telling tents and games like “Vegetable Justice” where an actor stays locked in the stocks hurling insults at people trying to pelt him or her with gooey tomatoes.
Down the lane, ancient, old-world instruments like the hammered dulcimer and penny whistle create whimsical music, and students learn about one of King Henry VIII’s favorite pastimes, falconry, as they watch birds of prey take flight.
“I liked seeing all the shows like the Tortuga Twins, and the joust actually looked real,” Charlotte Muharsky, another of Krivanek’s students, said.
Even eating at the festival is a history lesson. Students discover that peasants often ate with their fingers, fearing that the fork’s tines resembled the devil’s pitchfork.
While every Englishman between 16 and 60 was compelled by law to own a longbow and practice archery in the name of national defense, jousting during the Renaissance was a way for knights to keep their war skills sharp while entertaining the public as they knocked their opponents off their horses with long lances.
Almost 500 years later, Brawley’s sixth graders could still feel some of the medieval magic as the knights took to the field, and cheers erupted.