Put on your finest suit of armor and head to Hartsville for the White Hart Renaissance Faire. This family-friendly festival series brings the Elizabethan Age to the Ozarks. Have a turkey leg, see the queen, and take part in some historic hijinks.

The White Hart Renaissance Faire showcases Elizabethan activities including falconry, archery, and horsemanship.
Photo courtesy of Robert Adkison WaywardImages.com

By Caroline Dohack

The White Hart Renaissance Faire kicks off its 19th summer season on Saturday, June 8, in Hartville, Missouri. Faire days will be held every Saturday and Sunday through the month of June, with festivities coming to a close on June 23.

White Hart General Manager Michelle Tongyai says while this isn’t one of the biggest renaissance faires out there—“We don’t want people to feel like numbers. We want people to feel like they’re in the village,” Tongyai says—it prides itself on quality educational programming and entertainment, including one activity you’re unlikely to find anywhere else in the area.

It’s called rat pucking, a plague-era precursor to what we now know as golf. Tongyai explains that during the 1500s, street cleaners knew better than to handle the carcasses of possibly contaminated rats. Pucking — using a stick to fling rats into a cart — was born.

But don’t worry: No real rats are pucked these days. Instead, puckers fling weighted rat dolls at targets. If you hear someone shout the name of a cheese—“Swiss!” or “Gorgonzola!”—that’s the signal to take cover. An airborne “rodent” may come sailing by.

It sounds simple, but one must earn their rat-pucking bonafides by competing in and winning a certain number of tournaments. Only then can they bring the sport to a faire.

“Our faire is the only faire [in the region] allowed to do rat pucking because there is a sanctioned rat pucker,” Tongyai says. “He’ll be here, and he’ll teach everyone how to fling their rat. We have people come from other states just to play rat puck.”

In addition to the rat pucker, another popular figure is Queen Elizabeth I, currently portrayed by Tongyai’s daughter Vivian. Fairegoers can kneel before the queen in a knighting ceremony or challenge her to an archery contest. But if you attempt the latter, you’d better bring your A game. Vivian, like the real Elizabeth, is a skilled equestrian and bowwoman.

The queen’s appearance is just one of the ways White Hart keeps history alive. Tongyai says the faire is specifically focused on life during the Elizabethan period, which ranged from 1558 – 1603. The faire takes its name from the mythical white stag—hart being an archaic word for stag—an important motif for the royal family during that time.

“We learn the history so we can pass the history down,” Tongyai says.

Other nods to the period include a falconer, who will demonstrate some of the hunting techniques favored by Elizabeth’s father, King Henry VIII. The actors, meanwhile, speak in the English dialect spoken during Elizabethan times. This makes insult contests especially interesting — the trash talk can go on as long as nobody slips into modern parlance. As Shakespeare put it, “Come, come, you froward and unable worms!”

But visitors are not bound by the same rigors of historical accuracy. Want to come dressed as a dragon? Do it. Tongyai says costumes are encouraged, but ultimately she hopes people will show up however makes them happy.

“My advice to anybody who goes in is to really go in with an open mind,” Tongyai says. “There’s always something at the ren that will catch your eye and you’ll enjoy.” 

That the faire is enjoyable and affordable to families in the Ozarks is especially important to its organizers. Tickets range from $5 to $10. Most of the activities are included with the purchase of a ticket, and fairegoers are invited to pack picnics if they so desire.

Those who choose to indulge in the concessions might enjoy a medieval-style meat pie from Coffyn Maker Pyes or rat-on-a-stick from the Viking-inspired Frehheit zur Futter.

But don’t worry. Once again, no real rats are used.

Feature image by Pixabay.

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