The Court of Love
Before my wife and I were married we both enjoyed being actors in a Renaissance Fair, but due to career demands, we stopped going. One of the things we enjoyed was “The Court of love” where anyone could bring their issues stemming from love and romance to the noblewomen of the court and a decision would be made that was fair to both parties. Although the tone of the proceedings was humorous, the decisions were supposed to be taken seriously. I decided a costume party on the Saturday after Valentine's Day would be an ideal occasion to introduce this fun party theme to our friends.
My wife sent out the invitations about a month in advance, inviting our friends to attend the 'Court de Amour' at the manor of the Count and Countess of Orlemaine (a fictional French county). Inside was an explanation of the party theme, time, date and location. Guests were asked to come in costume, choose a character from the list or make up their own,(it had to be submitted to us it no later than a week before the party), and bring a side dish.
I contacted a few of my old friends from Renaissance Fair, told them about the party and asked them if they would help. They were eager for a chance spice things up a bit. One would act the part of the herald calling out the names of the characters when it was their turn to appear. Two others would play the parts of household servants.
I printed up the pre-generated and custom characters, personal details and complaints on ecru sheets of paper. I folded them in thirds and sealed them with a faux wax seal to make them look official. Each had the name of the character written in calligraphy on the back.
We decided to make the living room into the audience chamber. On Friday we moved most of the furniture to the garage. My wife hung a tapestry behind the throne-like chairs she rented from a company specialising in theater props. Rented chairs were set up at the back half of the room for guests wanting to watch the proceedings. To make better use of the small dining room the rented banquet tables were pushed against three walls.
I cooked a beef roast and several chickens on the day of the party. After covering the table with some tapestry linens, my wife garnished the roast and chickens with herbs and carved fruit. In the centre of each table she placed three lovely floating candle centrepieces she made from items picked up at a craft shop. She also put out a tray of sliced cheese, bread and condiments for those who wanted sandwiches.
After the string quartet had set up in the corner of the living room and the juggler in a jester's costume arrived, my wife and I put our costumes on and waited impatiently for our guests to appear. The string quartet played chamber music as one servant greeted each guest and handed them the sealed packet containing their character. He then showed the guest where to place their side dish then ushered them into the audience chamber.
Once all of the guests were assembled, I explained court procedure then invited them to make themselves at home. Both servants helped with the food, opened the wine and poured it for the guests into golden plastic goblets my wife had found at a party supply shop. We mixed with our guests chatting both as the Count and Countess, but also as ourselves. It would have been a pretty good party if nothing else happened, but of course there was more fun to come.
After forty minutes my wife and I returned to the audience chamber and the first characters were announced. I was expecting only a few guests to take interest, but in no time the chairs were filled and others guests crowded in behind them until there was barely any in room in the doorway for anyone to get in. As the Court de Amour heard each case the audience started making comments, cheers, jeers and even helped with suggestions on how to resolve some of the disputes. It became a little like a tabloid T.V. show transported back in time, but with way more class and humour.
The herald announced the court was taking a break and for everyone to assemble on the porch for a special performance. The guests soon understood why the performance was outside when they saw the juggler lighting his fire batons. Everyone was very impressed by his skill. After the performance was over, court resumed until all the disputes were dealt with except for one. Unknown to any of the guests (including my wife) the herald and the Count had a dispute. I accused him of having a 'lustful eye' for the Countess, he denied the charge and demanded it be settled with a duel. The characters were divided into those who urged us to settle the dispute peacefully and those who wanted to see a duel to the death. Of course, neither of us would see reason and exchanged some insults before returning outside. We donned padded vests drew swords (unsharpened ones) and went at it. It was all choreographed, of course, so I would win (he's a better fencer than I am).
After the duel the festivities continued until late. Everyone talked about the party for months afterward and said it was the best Valentine's Day party they had ever been to. Some of them are still bugging my wife and I to do it again. It was a lot of work, but tremendous fun.