From the ninth century on, English custom decreed a reprieve from everyday routine and a pause for celebration at the time of the spring planting. Fairs and open markets were held throughout the land. For the past 18 years Californians, despite their supposed fixation on the future, have been following suit. In increasing numbers they have joined the 2,000 costumed players who host the annual Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Los Angeles, many swapping their jeans for Elizabethan dress, in the spirit of what director Phyllis Patterson calls "learning history by living it." So popular has the Faire become that it has spun off an end-of-summer counterpart outside San Francisco, and out-of-staters have begun to make tourist attractions of both. Immediately at the entrance gates, visitors are whisked into Tudor England, where only Elizabethan English greets the ear and scenes out of Shakespeare meet the eye. Banners wave above dusty lanes filled with scampering children, barking dogs and merrymakers sampling roasted turkey legs, watching "Drench a Wench" or shooting Robin Hood-type bows as Good Queen Bess herself rolls by in her regal sedan. There are commedia dell'arte performances, Renaissance and baroque concerts and a cappella singers. Craftsmen crochet lace, dip candles or weave wreaths—for instruction and for sale too.
The Renaissance Pleasure Faire is sponsored by the Living History Centre, a nonprofit educational foundation. It provides free classes in everything Elizabethan to school kids who are bused in on weekdays. The festival opens outside L.A. at the Paramount Ranch April 25 and continues on weekends (10 a.m. to 7 p.m.) through May 31. Northern California festivities in Marin County are scheduled on weekends from August 8 to September 13. (Adults $8.95; children $3.75)