Queen Elizabeth 1 Loved Live Action Role Playing

From the ancient Romans to the Tudor Queen, everyone likes dressing up and pretending to be something else

“After tea, thou shalt dress up as a dragon, such that I should slay thee.”

“Nobody larped like the Tudors.”

So says Lizzie Stark in her essay on the much-longer-and-richer-than-you-thought history of live action role playing.

Today, live action role playing (larp-ing) whisks you off to magical worlds where powerful magi cast lightning bolts by throwing little sticks at their friends, and the American civil war can happen every day.

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Lightning bolt!

But according to Stark,

Queen Elizabeth I presided over some serious, and seriously expensive, larplike entertainments.

For the Queen, who reigned from 1558 to 1603, the Earl of Leicester threw a massive party.

Amid a busy schedule of hunting, bear-bating, joust-watching, acrobatic shows, and plays, Elizabeth repeatedly encountered figures from myth who popped out of the shrubbery to poetically praise her and to ask for her assistance. For example, while returning from hunting one day, the queen passed over a pool close to the castle. A guy dressed as the sea-god Triton swam up to beseech Her Majesty on behalf of the Arthurian Lady of the Lake, who was being threatened by the evil “Sir Bruce.” After the queen cowed the enemy with the majesty of her aura, the Lady of the Lake glided across the water on a movable island to thank the queen. Later, the mythical musician Arion appeared out of a 20-foot-long mechanical dolphin with a six-piece band hidden inside—the boat was made up so that its oars appeared to be fins.

As Stark explains it, this love of role playing wasn’t limited to the English. “The Romans,” she says, “hosted themed costume parties.”

Julius Caesar enters the foyer, dressed as an Etruscan. But his costume is not unique.

“Et tu, Brute?” he says with a sigh.

More from Smithsonian.com:

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